Alabama, which legalized medical weed back in 2021, is just now getting around to licensing cultivators, testing labs, processors, transporters, and dispensaries so qualifying patients can begin to have access. The catch? You can’t smoke it, and all the edibles you consume must be peach-flavored.
You see, if the edibles are cube-shaped (also stipulated by law) and peach-flavored, they’re somehow less likely to interest kids—at least that’s the state Senate’s logic after a heated floor debate, according to Alabama Reflector’s Brian Lyman (and the new regulations).
“At one point the bill said it would have no taste, but (state Sen. Tim) Melson said that would cause people to gag. So the compromise was a single flavor,” Lyman told AL.com. “Maybe peach isn’t as attractive to people?”
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have used “for the children” justifications to attempt to regulate which products adults may legally buy. For over two decades, Reason’s Jacob Sullum has documented the assaults on malt liquor, clove cigarettes, and any other vice that might possibly excite the taste buds of minors. In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration banned flavored e-cigarette cartridges to “combat the troubling epidemic of youth e-cigarette use,” ignoring the many surveys in which ex-smokers report that flavored vape cartridges actually helped them quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. And the Alabama case isn’t the first time the kid safety justification has been used to justify the regulation of edibles.
Maryland regulators, who took forever to get their medical cannabis scheme off the ground, were further delayed back in 2019 because they needed to develop rules governing the appearance of edibles “to ensure the safety of minors.” (“I don’t want to deprive anyone of their medication, but let’s treat this like medicine, not make little gummy bears out of it,” said Republican state Sen. Robert Cassilly at the time.) New York has banned the marketing and advertising of cannabis products “designed in any way to appeal to children or other minors.”
In 2014, Colorado regulators deliberated over whether to ban practically all edibles before ultimately allowing a broader variety, but disallowing those shaped like animals, people, or fruit (which are also banned in California). In 2018, Washington state regulators mulled rules that would have banned certain shapes of edibles—along with the use of icing and sprinkles—before ultimately just banning the use of bright colors; per the authorities, product colors must fall within a “standard pantone color book that sets the list of colors and specified ranges within those colors.”
“If you go through a [New York] cannabis dispensary right now,” Columbia University epidemiologist Katherine Keyes told the Associated Press, “it’s almost absurd how youth-oriented a lot of the packaging and the products are.”
Lawmakers, regulators, and public health worrywarts are aided and abetted by a willing media. “Consumption of Marijuana Edibles Surges Among Children, Study Finds,” reads a New York Times headline from earlier this year. “3,000+ young children accidentally ate weed edibles in 2021, study finds,” adds NPR. (Though any accidental ingestion that results in hospitalization is worrying, no children died in any of the thousands of cases analyzed in the study—a not-insignificant point that few journalists pointed out.)
The belief that kids will get into drugs if they taste good is enduring but ignores some basic truths: It was easy to get your hands on weed-infused candies and chocolates pre-legalization and remains easy in nonlegal states; it’s a parent’s responsibility to keep possibly mind-altering substances out of a child’s reach; and the distinction between a child accidentally getting into an adult’s stash and a teenager actively looking to partake frequently gets muddled. It’s perhaps a fairer argument to assume sweets are exciting to small children, but rebellious teenagers wanting to mess with their own minds will do so regardless of whether a substance tastes good.
As for the youngsters who might accidentally ingest weed that looks like candy, no amount of state intervention can fully protect kids from negligent parents. If you have young children at home but wish to personally enjoy mind-altering substances, you ought to take measures to ensure your vices are inaccessible (and possibly discuss such matters with your kids, if you deem it age-appropriate).
This is the same way we’ve thought about kids and alcohol for many years: it’s the parent’s responsibility to keep the liquor cabinet out of reach, not the state’s to prevent a parent from buying (extremely sweet-tasting) Malibu or Frangelico. It’s not clear why weed ought to be treated differently, or why a regulation that disallows strawberry flavors but allows peach would prevent kids from indulging when they shouldn’t.
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