New Packaging Rules Throws Colorado Marijuana Industry For A Loop
A new rule regarding how marijuana must be packaged has some dispensary operators in Colorado worried they may not be able to legally sell any cannabis products — from buds to brownies — come Jan. 1.
When the sale of recreational marijuana becomes legal at the first of the year, part of the new legalization rules in the Rocky Mountain state include the required use of opaque, child-resistant packaging. The packaging rule was instituted by officials hoping to to reduce the risk of accidental ingestion by young children — a type of incident that has increased in recent years, along with the growth of the industry in the state.
But several dispensary owners say that they are struggling to find vendors that manufacture a package that complies with Colorado’s new rules, since the packaging requirements were approved Sept. 9 and implemented Oct. 15.
“A number of our members are having an incredibly difficult time,” Mike Elliott, director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, the state’s largest marijuana business group, told the Denver Post. “We’re all looking for ways to comply with this rule, and everyone is worried we’re not going to be able to, basically.”
Matt Brown is the owner of the only marijuana tourism company in North America, My 420 Tours, and is a recreational marijuana user and advocate. Talking to MintPress, Brown said forcing an industry to make changes in less than two months is asking a lot, especially since a few extra months of implementation time is “not the end of the world.”
While Brown agrees that the new packaging rules are a good idea, especially compared to the “old Ziploc bag mentality,” he says the industry should be given a little bit more time to implement the new requirements, since state officials would never try to force a fast change on a company like Walmart.
“This is now the third year in a row the state legislature has passed some sort of improvement or tweaks” to the state’s marijuana laws, Brown said, adding that packaging was a big issue that was discussed throughout the past year.
Although the expedited packaging rule changes caught some people off guard, Brown says the new laws illustrate how the marijuana industry is trying to take up issues that other legal industries such as alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies have looked at as well.
However, according to Julie Postlethwait, spokeswoman for the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, state regulators say that they have no sympathy for dispensary owners who are not prepared. Postlethwait in particular said she found it disappointing store owners had waited to the last minute, and said the new rules are “not a surprise that came and hit them over the heads.”
“The main point here, the focus the industry tends to forget, is we exist in order to ensure public safety,” she said. “You don’t want a child ingesting high-potency infused products. The risk is a child’s health.”
But some store owners who tried to order new packaging before the rules were finalized have found themselves at a loss of money and in potential legal trouble if they can’t muster up the money for new packages.
Ryan Cook, a co-owner of The Clinic in Denver, which is a chain of six medical marijuana dispensaries in the area, said he ordered $40,000 worth of packaging from a manufacturer in China before the rules were finalized, since it takes about three months to receive the packages. But since the bags are transparent on one side, they don’t meet the state’s new marijuana packaging requirements.
“For us, it was an unfortunate situation,” Cook told the Denver Post. “But now I think the whole industry is faced with, ‘Can everyone get the packaging they need in the time frame they need it?’ That might be an uphill battle.”
Cook explained that all marijuana products sold at the company’s six different dispensaries are prepackaged at a warehouse before they are sent out to the dispensaries. He said the company has used transparent bags to make tracking the products easier and more secure. Plus, he said, customers want to see what they’re getting before they buy it.
“It stinks,” Cook said. “It’s our mistake. We knew the rules were coming out. But we were under the impression we had a package that was considered child-proof, re-sealable and tamper-proof.”
Finding the perfect package
One of the greatest concerns among lawmakers, doctors and law enforcement officials regarding marijuana legalization, including medical, has been the risk that young children could accidentally get into a patient or user’s supply.
But as Rebecca Brown, a mother of a pediatric medical marijuana patient told MintPress earlier this year, she has never been concerned about someone getting into her son Cooper’s medical marijuana supply, including her other son.
“In our family, we look at this as medicine,” she said. “We have lots of medicines around that are more addictive and more dangerous.”
Jim Johnson, who is working to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota so his young daughter Luella could qualify for the medicine, agrees. Although Johnson has three other young children at home, he says cannabidiol would be one of the safer medications his children could possibly get into.
But Jodi Duke, a faculty member at the University of Colorado-Denver, School of Pharmacy, said that due to the lack of scientific evidence regarding the safety of marijuana, people may want to “err on the side of being more cautious,” since she said much of marijuana’s safety has come from anecdotal evidence.
According to the Denver Post, the opaque-colored requirement came from a report released this past August from researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health and Children’s Hospital Colorado, which predicted that accidental marijuana ingestion by children could be cut in half if the state required opaque, child-resistant packages.
To be considered child-resistant, the state requires the packaging be “significantly difficult for children under 5 years of age to open and not difficult for normal adults to use properly,” which is based off an international standards organization.
Duke, a co-author for the report on how to best package marijuana, said that the group evaluated how to effectively package marijuana, and thought that since colors and characters on packages are appealing to kids, dispensaries should do the opposite — make the packages as bland as possible to discourage kids from being interested in marijuana.
Gregory Tung, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and co-author of the report along with Duke, told MintPress that while the report examined how to keep kids from unintentionally ingesting marijuana, the researchers recognize there may be other equally or more dangerous than marijuana, but those items were not included in this report.
Tung said that while the researchers thought about how tobacco, alcohol, household products and pharmaceuticals were packaged, he said the sole purpose of this report was determining how to best package marijuana so kids can’t accidentally consume it. He called researching the report an “interesting experience,” and said that everyone came together — from child-health advocates to those in the marijuana industry — to create regulations that would protect children but be practical in a business-sense.
Tung added that as part of their research, he and his co-authors spoke with packaging manufacturers and provided information for companies with approved packaging in the report to help dispensary owners in the state comply with the new rules.
One possible packaging solution for Denver dispensaries is a product called the “Stink Sack,” which is a smell-proof bag that has a double-locking mechanism. The bags are manufactured by a New York company and come in three “pot-friendly” sizes.
Ross Kirsh is the owner of the company that produces Stink Sack’s. He said a half million of his opaque bags are currently in production and should be ready for delivery by Jan. 1.
Postlethwait said the exact penalties for not complying with the packaging requirements are still being finalized, but she said violators can be fined by the state and more serious action can be taken against dispensary operators if the violation continues.
But Matt Brown expressed concern that failing to properly package marijuana by Jan. 1 could result in a business losing its license and being labeled as a drug dealer.
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