Colorado’s health department proposed an industry-spinning ban on the sales of nearly all forms of edible marijuana at recreational pot shops on Monday but then quickly backed away from the plan amid an industry outcry and questions over legality.
After a heated, four-hour hearing, the public policy Tilt-A-Whirl ride ended where it began: With lawmakers, regulators and stakeholders still in disagreement — now more than 10 months after the start of recreational pot sales — on the best way to manage marijuana in Colorado.
“This is by far the simplest recommendation,” state Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, said of the health department’s proposal. “But I don’t know if it gets us to where we want to be.”
The aim of the state advisory group that met Monday to consider the health department’s proposal and several others is to prevent people — mostly kids — from accidentally eating marijuana-infused products. Such accidental ingestions have sent children to the hospital, caused an increase in calls to poison control hotlines and become one of the key measures lawmakers use in discussing whether legal marijuana sales can fit harmoniously in society.
Sales of infused edibles make up about 45 percent of the legal marijuana marketplace, said Dan Anglin, the chairman of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.
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The health department’s recommendation was one of 11 proposals the group considered Monday. Most suggested the state create clearer labels for marijuana-infused products or require producers to make edible marijuana items in a unique shape or dyed a unique color.
Many of those proposals, though, quickly met with a familiar back-and-forth. One side would offer the suggestion; the other side would bat it down.
Stamp a symbol onto edibles denoting the products contain marijuana? Too easily rubbed off, edibles producers said.
Improve labeling and require edibles to stay with their packages? Too easily ignored to spread unmarked edibles, groups concerned about marijuana said.
Require producers to dye their products a specific color or airbrush on a symbol?
Oversight of edibles: The early months of Colorado’s legal marijuana sales spotlighted several edibles issues, including an independent Denver Post analysis of THC potency in products that revealed big discrepancies
“You can’t force a company to use an ingredient they don’t want to,” said advisory group member Julie Dooley, an owner of Julie & Kate Baked Goods, an edibles producer.
In the debate, there was talk of Sour Patch Kids and marijuana-infused sodas, discussion of the cost of chocolate molds, and these words: “I think soft candy is such a broad category.”
Amid this atmosphere, Colorado health department official Jeff Lawrence presented the department’s proposed ban on the sales of all edibles except hard candies and tinctures. Lawrence said the disagreement over more nuanced regulations pushed the department to propose something more sweeping.
“If it couldn’t be achieved,” he said, “we were looking at something that could be achieved.”
But the proposal — word of which spread in an Associated Press report before the meeting — quickly met a buzz saw.
Industry advocates questioned whether edibles could be banned under Amendment 64, Colorado’s marijuana-legalization measure. Singer worried a ban would create a “marijuana Whac-A-Mole situation” where edibles production moved into the black market. Andrew Freedman, the state’s marijuana policy coordinator, said the governor’s office did not support a ban.
The health department later in the day put out a news release acknowledging that the department did not consider the proposal’s constitutionality or ask the governor’s office to review it. Instead, the proposal was put forward to generate discussion.
“Considering only the public health perspective, however, edibles pose a definite risk to children, and that’s why we recommended limiting marijuana-infused products to tinctures and lozenges,” Larry Wolk, the executive director of the department, said in a statement.
The discussion seemed mostly over by the end of Monday’s meeting, as talk returned to more incremental forms of edibles regulation. Any final proposals from the advisory group will be presented in a report to the legislature next year. The Department of Revenue, which regulates marijuana businesses, must adopt final rules on the topic by 2016.
“Inevitably,” said Revenue official Ron Kammerzell, near the end of Monday’s meeting, “we’re going to have to have another working group meeting.”
That meeting is planned for mid-November.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/johningold