Editorial: NM’s pot packaging needs child-proof uniformity ASAP - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: NM’s pot packaging needs child-proof uniformity ASAP

Prescription drug bottles have them. So do over-the-counter bottles of pain reliever and sleep aids.

Pods of laundry detergent have them, as do drain cleaner, bleach and many other household items. You can buy them for your toilets, cupboards and electrical outlets.

So why aren’t medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries in New Mexico uniformly using child-resistant packaging to keep high-potency cannabis gummies from being mistaken for candy?

A 2-year-old girl was taken to a Rio Rancho hospital late July 1 after eating several cannabis-infused gummies. The girl’s mother told police she left a package of pot gummies in her purse on the couch when she got up to use the bathroom. When she returned, she discovered the child had eaten three to five gummies, each containing 100 milligrams of THC.

The child was last reported to be in “serious, but stable” condition. Her mother, 33-year-old Amanda Ulibarri, was arrested on a felony charge of child abuse.

It’s not the first time a New Mexico child has been taken to the hospital for ingesting THC-infused candies since recreational cannabis sales became legal here April 1.

Just three days into legal pot, a student at Algodones Elementary School took THC-infused candies to school and shared them with 14 classmates. The Bernalillo Public Schools superintendent said the student didn’t know the candy had THC so no charges were filed.

The third- and fourth-grade students ate what looked like “green apple sour belts,” meant to mimic candy or fruit rolls. Some kids reported feeling lethargic, others nauseous. All were taken to a hospital where they were examined, found to be in stable condition, and released.

“I’m a little bit saddened by the fact we didn’t predict this was going to happen,” Superintendent Matthew Montaño told the Rio Rancher Observer.

Exactly — with the operative “we” being the Legislature and governor who held a special session solely to pass the Cannabis Regulation Act, and the regulators entrusted with overseeing the industry.

These are just two instances we know of where children have consumed candy-like cannabis products recently. How many incidents have not been reported is anyone’s guess.

The CRA lays out packaging and labeling requirements, although it doesn’t set a timetable for enforcement other than cannabis products must be properly labeled and packaged before sale or transport. The act’s requirements include child-resistant packaging and labeling designed not to appeal to children.

A check shows some dispensaries follow the guidelines, some don’t. Urban Wellness uses child-proof caps on bottles of products; Ultra Health, the state’s largest cannabis company, uses resealable plastic bags in its Albuquerque stores.

Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, one of the architects of the Cannabis Regulation Act, says one of the issues is New Mexico is in a regulatory transition.

Prior to April 1, medical cannabis was regulated by the state Department of Health. The Cannabis Control Division of the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department issued new rules for packaging that took effect when recreational sales began. Davis says the law and regulations do not provide clear guidance on what is child-proof enough, and the understaffed agency does not have the capacity to pre-approve every package option.

Here’s a tip: a zip-top plastic bag isn’t child-proof. A cursory internet search shows myriad child-proof cannabis packaging, which has been available for years and is in use in neighboring Colorado. Did anyone aboard N.M.’s legalize-pot train do any homework on this at all?

Right now consumers get a mash-up of packaging as interpreted by individual cannabis licensees instead of uniform regulations that put public safety front and center. State regulators need to clear the haze ASAP, better define the standards, and require all cannabis licensees to adhere to the same packaging and labeling rules to keep the drug out of the hands of minors and minors out of the emergency room.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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