Preventing Unintentional Ingestion of Marijuana by Children

Editor Note – The following guest blog post is by Jodi Duke, MPH.  Jodi is a PhD student in the Health Systems, Management and Policy Department at the Colorado School of Public Health.  Disclosure – I am a coauthor on Health Impact Assessment discussed in this post. 

A number of states and municipalities in the United States have partially or fully decriminalized marijuana for medical and non-medical purposes.  In 2000 Colorado legalized medical marijuana and in 2012 voters passed Amendment 64 fully legalizing recreational marijuana use to those 21 years and older.

The availability, variety, and appeal of marijuana and marijuana-infused products are expected to expand rapidly – potentially increasing accidental ingestions by children.  Products of interest include infused fruit drinks, candies, and baked goods.  In July 2013, the state of Colorado began developing a comprehensive set of regulations for the retail marijuana industry.  Of the issues being considered, packaging to mitigate unintentional ingestion by children was one.

A team of us, working on behalf of the Children’s Health Advocacy Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Pediatric Injury Prevention Education and Research Program at the Colorado School of Public Health, conducted a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) focused on packaging of retail marijuana products to reduce unintentional ingestion by children. An HIA is a combination of procedures, methods, and tools used to develop recommendations for decision-makers. It combines available scientific evidence with stakeholder opinions, beliefs, and needs. Our HIA resulted in recommendations as well as a set of model regulatory language. Both were rooted in scientific evidence and were sensitive to the needs of stakeholders (including industry and government).

Our HIA found that US Consumer Product Safety Commission-defined child resistant (CR) packages have been highly effective in reducing accidental ingestions of pharmaceuticals and other products by children and that CR packaging would likely decrease unintentional ingestions of marijuana by children as well.  Our review of the evidence and stakeholder input also supported a recommendation that CR packages be opaque.  Opaque packing reduces the ability to see a product and could help decrease accidental ingestions by limiting the appeal to children. We also recommended that packages be re-closeable.  Many marijuana products (i.e. cookies and brownies) can be consumed at multiple times and re-closeable packing is necessary for unconsumed product.  Our final recommendation was that allowances be made to re-use appropriate packaging consistent with manufacturer recommendations.  Stakeholders had a desire to reduce the environmental impact of CR packages which lead to our recommendation that the state of Colorado should allow for their appropriate re-use.

Colorado’s regulations related to marijuana have not been finalized but draft regulations released by the state have already incorporated the HIA’s recommendations.  A link to our HIA report and recent press coverage in the Denver post is included below.

HIA Report:  http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/PublicHealth/research/ResearchProjects/piper/projects/Documents/HIA%20Final%20Report%208.20.2013.pdf

Denver Post:  http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_23919309/proper-packaging-could-cut-accidental-pot-ingestions-by

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