California Child Cannabis Poisonings taken up by AB1207

At long last, California has taken action to stop the surge of cannabis poisonings in children. The Cannabis Candy Child Safety Act, AB1207, passed in the legislature and went to Governor Newsom’s desk for his signature last week.   It won’t solve the problem, but it may keep California emergency rooms slightly less busy.

The California State Senate voted 23 Aye, 10 No and the Assembly voted 63 Aye, 0 No,  landmark measure.  Introduced by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks, The Cannabis Candy Child Safety Act – will implement key measures to protect children and youth. It defines more clearly types of unacceptable products, packaging, and labeling attractive to children or teens.

“The outrageous packaging and marketing of cannabis products so that they are intentionally attractive to children is one of the leading causes of pediatric cannabis exposures,” said Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, author of AB 1207. “AB 1207 will end this practice of packaging cannabis products with images of unicorns, blue raspberries, or superheroes that predictably lead to children being poisoned with cannabis.”

Dr. Lynn Silver, pediatrician and Director of Getting it Right from the Start said: “The California Legislature has sent a clear message that we need to create a safer cannabis market that starts putting kids’ health above profit. We urge Governor Newsom to sign it and rigorously enforce it!” 

Why is reality so different from the promises of Proposition 64?

When Proposition 64, the California initiative that legalized recreational cannabis in the state, was passed in 2016 one of its clearly identified intentions was that “Marijuana products shall be: Not designed to be appealing to children or easily confused with commercially sold candy or foods that do not contain marijuana.” Since that time, systemic regulatory failures and widespread cannabis commercialization have resulted in the proliferation of hundreds of legal cannabis products that resemble some of children’s favorite candy, snacks, and sodas.

Parents Opposed to Pot never believed the promises of Proposition 64.  Nor did Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Proposition 64 and other state legalization programs brought numerous problems:

  • Annual cannabis exposures reported to California Poison Control increased from below 200 in 2010 to over 1600 by 2020; 50% involved children, half below age 12. In contrast, there were only 16 total reported gummy exposures between 2010 and 2015 vs. 409 in 2020 alone. 
  • Cannabis-related emergency department visits in California increased by 75% between 2016 and 2020, mainly involving the consumption of plant material or edibles. 
  • Nationally, edible cannabis poisonings of children six and under increased 1,375% between 2017 and 2021, growing in severity. Many resulted in intensive care or mechanical ventilation.
  • At Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, children under age 10 testing positive for THC quadrupled since 2016, mostly from edibles, of which three-quarters were from candies or gummies, half were hospitalized, and one in ten required intensive care.  

San Diego pediatrician reacts

“I have seen hundreds of young children become ill, many critically ill, after accidentally eating cannabis that looks like candy,” said Dr. Natalie Laub, Pediatrician and researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

Supporters decried the cannabis industry’s successful efforts stripping AB 1207 of some of its initial and important protective measures – including the prohibition on flavored inhaled products and much stricter rules limiting advertising tactics appealing to youth – and vowed to revisit them in the future.

AB 1207 has received support from major news outlets, including editorials by the Los Angeles Times and the Mercury News/East Bay Times. The bill is also supported by organizations representing pediatricians, parents, emergency physicians, public health organizations, youth advocacy groups, and substance use prevention professionals: the Public Health Institute, Youth Forward, The California American Academy of Pediatrics, California Society of Addiction Medicine, the American College of Emergency Physicians – California Chapter, California PTA, and the Counties of Santa Clara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Marin and Santa Barbara.

AB 1207 would prohibit cannabis products clearly mimicking candy, soda, and snacks attractive to kids.   Colorado has also taken steps in this direction.  It’s time for Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York and all other legalization states to do the same.