Cannabis has offered the world many health benefits, but there is one downside, cannabis targeting kids.

Marijuana products are often sold in fun flavors with bright, attractive labeling. And let’s not forget about edibles that look all too tempting to people under 18. This makes cannabis targeting kids a major issue.

This article will review the cannabis targeting kids situation to get a handle on the problem and review possible solutions.

Cannabis Targeting Kids: The Issue

Look at any cannabis dispensary and you are guaranteed to find products that come in a variety of fun flavors. There are flower products like ‘loud lemon’ and ‘peach dream’. Fruit flavored gummies and delectable edible chocolate bars are other items children may find irresistible.

It’s all a bit reminiscent of e-cigarettes. The vape market was targeted in a similar way for selling nicotine that came in fun flavors.

“We should learn from the nicotine space, and I certainly would advocate that we should place similar concern on cannabis products in terms of their appealability to youth,” said Katherine Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia who has written extensively about increased marijuana use among young people.

“If you go through a cannabis dispensary right now it’s almost absurd how youth oriented a lot of the packaging and the products are.”

Cannabis Targeting Kids: What’s Being Done

There are steps being taken to keep the cannabis targeting kids issue under control. But it’s hard for regulators to work fast enough to stay on top of a market that’s growing in leaps and bounds.

New York prohibits marketing that “is designed in any way to appeal to children and other minors”. However, the state’s Office of Cannabis Management has yet to adopt rules on labeling, packing, and advertising that may ban the use of cartoon graphics, neon colors, and depictions of food on the labels, all of which may be appealing to people under 21 and make the cannabis targeting kids issue worse.

“Consumers need to be aware- parents need to be aware- if they see products that look like other products that are commonly marketed to kids, that’s an illicit market product,” said Lyla Hunt, deputy director of OCM’s public health and campaigns.

Hunt has also called out a product called “Stoney Patch Kids” so named for the popular candy “Sour Patch Kids”.

A Concern for Illegal Markets

While legislation will be put in place to minimize cannabis targeting kids, the illegal market is likely to work outside the law.

“We can regulate until we’re blue in the face. But the truth is, it’s a partnership between a compliant industry, strong regulations that are robust in their protections for youth and then with parents too,” Hunt said.

According to current state law, minors could be fined up to $50 for marijuana possession. Dispensaries that sell to minors may be fined and may lose their license, but responsible parties won’t be put in jail.

More Needs to Be Done to Reduce Cannabis Targeting Kids

A lot has been done to ensure cigarettes do not fall into the hands of minors. Warning labels state their potential to cause cancer, emphysema, and other health issues. As a result, the number of teens smoking cigarettes has dropped.

The harm vape products can do to children has not fully been established. And with the fun flavors available, vaping has increased among teens and young adults. This is occurring even though states such as California. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rode Island have put bans on most flavored tobacco products including e-cigarettes and vapes.

But Linda Richter, who works with the Partnership to End Addiction, says these regulations must be broadened to include the marijuana market.

“There is no scrutiny on the tobacco industry, and very, very little in terms of rules, regulations, scrutiny, limitations when it comes to the cannabis industry.” Richter said.

She noted that the lack of regulations is due to the infancy of legalized marijuana. She also pointed out that many states look to the federal government when setting guidelines, but in this case, that would not be possible as marijuana is still illegal on a federal level.

“There’s a real issue where you don’t have the weight of the federal government in terms of standards of packaging and marketing to set parameters to avoid appealing marketing to young people,” she noted.

While anti-smoking groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have fought the tobacco and vaping industry to reduce the use of cartoon characters and other kid-friendly imagery in their campaigns, they have not been as focused on the marijuana industry.

How Bad is It?

So how bad is the cannabis targeting kids issue? In 2021 there were more than 3054 calls in to poison control centers about cannabis exposure in kids under the age of 6 who inadvertently consumed an edible. That’s up from just 207 poison center calls in 2017 making for an increase of 1375%.

This coincides with the increase of marijuana legalization. Medical marijuana is currently illegal in 37 states while recreational marijuana is permitted in 21 states.

You can further argue that flavored marijuana products are specifically created to target kids.

“When you’re talking about strawberry cheesecake, or mango, or cookies and cream flavors, it’s very difficult to argue that those are for older adults,” said Dr. Pamela Long, the director for the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California in San Francisco.

“Folks who consider themselves to be more like cannabis afficionados would say that smoking a flavored cannabis product is like putting ketchup on your steak.”