While some thought the legalization of marijuana would cause total chaos, we're finding that daily life doesn't change much in states with legal recreational marijuana. There aren't clouds of smoke above Denver from all the smoking, crime rates haven't skyrocketed in Washington due to marijuana consumption, and dispensaries aren't taking over the streets of Massachusetts. One thing that has happened as a consequence of marijuana legalization though, is the rate of accidental marijuana ingestion by children has gone up in some legal states.
Ohio Students Get an Unwelcome Surprise
Early last month, nine children were rushed to the hospital after eating marijuana gummy bears. The edibles had been handed out by fellow elementary school students, who got them "from home," according to a spokesperson for the Ohio school district.
Emergency crews responded after school officials noticed a suspicious wrapper. The candies had already been handed out to at least 14 children, some as young as five years old. (Five parents declined to send their children to the hospital.)
The children suffered no lasting damage from the incident. School officials publicly reminded parents to keep medicines – and other potentially harmful substances in the house – locked up.
On the same day, miles away in Portland, Oregon, fifteen middle schoolers faced a similar fate. Two eighth graders brought edibles to school and gave them to classmates. No one was seriously harmed but the students were all sent home that day.
The Case of the Florida Felonies
In an even more troubling scenario, last November, a 12-year-old student handed out marijuana gummy candies to several other students at his Florida middle school. He did not eat any himself. The gummy candies came from a gummy THC-laced brick, which is sold online, according to the Washington Post. (This is perplexing, because THC edibles are generally not sold online.) He divided up the gummy bar – which is supposed to be torn into ten doses for legal adults – and handed it out to six of his classmates.
"It's unclear whether he understood that the gummies contained THC," the Washington Post reports. The boy told investigators different stories about how he had gotten his hands on the candy. The children who had overdosed on THC weren't much help either, apparently.
"The other kids have eaten the evidence, so to speak," one investigator said.
The boy's parents were not involved, according to authorities.
The 12-year-old was charged with seven felony crimes, as well as one misdemeanor. He faced one count of possession, and six counts of distribution of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school.
This more complicated case brings up additional issues in regard to how he ordered a THC edible online, why he didn't eat any himself, and how the edible looked so much like normal candy that no adult could tell what was happening. This case may be less about accidentally eating edibles than the others, but still brings up issues around edible regulations.
The Case of the Medical Edibles in New Mexico
Last winter, a nine-year-old girl in New Mexico came to school with a box labelled "Incredibles: High-quality handcrafted infused edibles." She ate some of the candies herself and shared the rest with four classmates. "Some students felt sick, dizzy and began to giggle," reporters noted.
The paramedics were called, and the school issued a warning to other parents. (The edibles had been intended for medicinal use by the girl's parents. Medical marijuana has been legal in New Mexico since 2007.)
The girl was upset. "All those lessons I took about not taking drugs were all for nothing," she told reporters. The girl said she never intended to take drugs. But candy is appealing to children.
If you haven't noticed already, these stories of children accidentally eating edibles aren't exactly uncommon.
Children Aren't the Only Ones Accidentally Eating Edibles These Days
While children are the ones accidentally eating edibles more often, it can happen to adults too. Last spring, in Minnesota, an information technology expert named Jeffrey Hansen attended a barbecue. The shindig was hosted by a friend of a friend. He didn't know many people there. He ate a bratwurst, according to court documents. Then he stepped indoors and "ate two unlabeled, frosted brownies in quick succession."
He didn't notice anything was amiss. But that evening, he had an upset stomach. The next morning, he called in sick to his job at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
A few days later he got the call: He was being summoned for random drug testing. The test came back positive for THC. Hansen was shocked, he says.
His employer, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, fired him.
Hansen said he had never consumed illegal substances before. Then he realized: it must have been the brownies. He started asking around. It turned out a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend had thought it would be "funny," according to Hansen's legal defense, to bring pot brownies to the barbecue – without telling anyone. (Hansen's lifelong friend, who invited him to the barbecue, submitted a statement confirming his story.)
But Hansen had already been fired from his position as an Information Technology Specialist.
He appealed the decision. But earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the ruling. It is legal for employers to fire someone, the court ruled, for testing positive for THC – whether they were accidentally eating edibles or not. This ruling set a new precedent for employers and employees everywhere, making biting into a brownie at a party a more serious situation.
The legal defense struggled to make his case, partly because no one would go on record to claim responsibility for bringing the brownies to the party.
They may have been afraid to come forward. Because elsewhere in the country, people have been charged with felonies for edible-related offenses like this.
Study Shows Child Exposure Rates Rising after Legalization
These stories might sound like extenuating circumstances, but there's data to suggest they're more common than we think. A 2015 pediatric study found that, between 2006 and 2013, the rate of THC exposure among children increased by 147.5 percent. These child-exposure rates had increased most sharply in states where medical marijuana had been legalized. But the rates had increased in states where medical marijuana was still illegal, too.
These stories about accidentally eating edibles are becoming more and more common. In almost every case, if the edibles were clearly labeled as THC products, someone could've intervened. A teacher could've seen the children with THC-marked candy and would've intervened, the man at the party would've seen labels on the brownies and wouldn't have eaten them and lost his job, and maybe the 12-year-old could've been caught handing out the edibles and wouldn't be facing seven felonies.
The number of states with legalized cannabis is growing but the regulations on edible marking are not a standard across the industry. It's not up to unsuspecting consumers to assume all gummy bears are THC-infused, but without labeling regulations, that becomes the reality. In states with legalized cannabis, sensible labeling legislation can help reduce the rates of accidental marijuana exposure.
In 2016, Colorado implemented new legislation requiring a universal symbol declaring "THC!" to be stamped on each piece of infused food. (Colorado law also stipulates how many milligrams of THC can be included in serving. Each serving must bear this universal symbol. That means that in one 100 milligram bar of chocolate, the symbol should appear ten times – one symbol on each 10 milligram bite.)
A Possible Solution
In Oregon, these laws do not exist yet. But one company wants edible manufacturers and anyone making edibles at home to get ahead of the game before more unsuspecting people end up accidentally eating edibles.
Baked Smart has edible labeling solutions for everyone. They make at-home kits with green crosses you can stick directly on any edibles you make at home. (The product is edible, so you don't have to take it off before eating that brownie.) They also provide solutions for licensed edible manufacturers to label their edibles too. The company was founded by edible makers, who knew this would be a necessity as the edible market expanded.
"When I moved to Oregon to start a business, I was shocked to find out that edibles were not being marked at all," founder Leah explains. "There was no way to distinguish them from regular food... I naively thought everyone would want to have a way to easily mark [their edibles]."
The marijuana industry isn't slowing down anytime soon, and edibles will continue being made with or without regulations on labeling. People will continue to accidentally eat edibles if nothing is done. Accidentally eating edibles is a stressful and unnerving experience for any adult, so every precaution should be taken to ensure no child is ever exposed to that. And as companies wise up to this necessity, and labeling requirements are put in place in legal states, Baked Smart is standing ready to help cannabis companies and consumers making edibles at home keep their THC-infused goodies away from unwilling participants.
The first 20 people to contact Baked Smart can win free home edible marking kits!
Baked Smart is a proud partner of Leafbuyer