By Sam Méndez, Executive Director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project
Today our second report for the Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board (WSLCB) was released, announced by UW Today. The report is titled “Concerning Cannabis-Infused Edibles: Factors That Attract Children to Foods” and it seeks to provide WSLCB with a research foundation for regulating cannabis-infused edibles with children in mind, supporting some of their already established policies on the subject and providing the potential for new ones.
“Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors” is one of the eight priorities specifically listed in the oft-cited 8/29/13 Cole Memorandum (and for what its worth, that priority is listed first), so that has constantly been on the mind of state regulators. Just about everyone agrees that cannabis should be kept away from children (unless medically necessary), and edibles are of greater concern than other marijuana products such as straight bud, because one can imagine a child being more likely to consume a brownie or lollipop than a dried plant.
It’s important to note that Washington already has regulations on edibles, (see e.g. WAC 314-55-77(7), “…Marijuana-infused products that are especially appealing to children are prohibited. Marijuana-infused edible products such as, but not limited to, gummy candies, lollipops, cotton candy, or brightly colored products, are prohibited.”) The findings of this report, for example that bright colored and novel-shaped foods are attractive to children, generally serve to support these rules.
Our chief findings were the following:
- Particular colors, shapes, odors, and tastes all have an impact on the decisions children make when consuming food—both whether to ingest or to avoid:
- Color is an important factor and children prefer foods that are red, orange, yellow, or green
- Shapes that children may be more attracted to are novel ones over conventional ones;
- Odors that children generally prefer include sweet, fruity, or candy-like odors;
- One study found the following odors to be pleasant to children: apple, banana, cinnamon, lemon, licorice, mint, pineapple, and rose;
- The same study found the following odors to be unpleasant to children: fish, clove, coffee, and garlic;
- Taste, rather than odor, is likely more useful as a deterrent for children;
- At birth, infants prefer sweet taste and reject sour and bitter tastes, with a preference for salty tastes emerging after four months.
- Unsurprisingly, particular kinds of marketing and branding can have a significant impact on children’s decisions to consume certain foods:
- Promotional characters in marketing and branding, including cartoon and licensed characters, influence children’s taste and food preferences;
- Television advertising influences the food and beverage preferences, purchase requests, and short-term consumption of children ages 2-11, but there is not sufficient evidence to draw the same conclusions with regard to teens aged 12-18.
- Numerous states have packaging and labeling requirements, a summary of which is attached hereto as Exhibit A.
Our report explicitly made no particular policy recommendations, as our task in this case was to provide research and leave the policy decisions to WSLCB. We also operated under two assumptions: “(a) children are curious and are attracted to numerous substances potentially dangerous in a household, such as alcoholic products, pharmaceutical drugs, cleaning chemicals, and many other potential hazards; and therefore, (b) governmental regulation aside, parents share in the responsibility to keep children safe from potentially dangerous substances.”
We felt it important to note these assumptions, particularly the latter one, as parents cannot be alleviated of their responsibility to protect their children from harm. Furthermore, there were many potential harms within the household before cannabis legalization, such as alcohol, pesticides, and cleaning chemicals.
It’s also worth noting that none of these findings are particularly surprising. Turns out kids actually are attracted to bright colors, cartoon ads, and sweet tastes. Still, this report serves as a source for research of these questions, with the report itself and with the research it cites to. Perhaps most notable was that no one of these factors was seen as singularly indicative of attraction, and that one must look at a confluence of these factors.
Please feel free to comment here if you have questions on the report and we’ll be happy to answer them.