By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - With recreational marijuana legalized for adults in Washington state, drug abuse prevention advocates are pushing for rules to shield children from treats containing pot that are headed for the consumer mainstream.
A flood of buzz-inducing cookies, candy and beverages is expected to hit the shelves of state-licensed marijuana stores starting next year. Some medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington already sell lollipops and other treats containing marijuana.
"The rules for labeling should be broadened to prohibit images and messages that are designed to attract young people," said retired University of Washington social work professor Roger Roffman.
Roffman, co-editor of the book "Cannabis Dependence: Its Nature, Consequences, and Treatment", was among a group of drug abuse prevention advocates who wrote a letter last month to state pot regulators noting that medical marijuana dispensaries were selling brightly colored lollipops, cotton candy and snow cones with an "obvious appeal to children."
They suggested adding rules to ensure that recreational-use pot product wrappers "not bear a reasonable resemblance to packaging of any commercially branded candy that is not a marijuana-infused product."
That is a reference to items like Buddahfingers, Pot Tarts and Stoney Ranchers, all made by Beyond Bomb, a California enterprise shut down by federal authorities in 2006. Its packaging closely resembled existing food products.
Washington and Colorado, which long ago legalized medical marijuana, last year became the first U.S. states to allow the recreational use of pot, which the federal government still considers an illegal drug. Another 16 states allow medical marijuana.
CONCERN FOR CHILDREN
As they set up a framework for a legal pot marketplace for pot, Colorado and Washington state already plan advertising restrictions on pot, but draft marijuana rules released last week in Washington state do not place similar restrictions on packaging or labeling of pot products.
The draft marijuana rules released by the Washington State Liquor Control Board last week include barring pot advertisements from appearing within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other places where children congregate.
The rules would also bar ads from depicting toys, cartoon characters or anything "especially appealing to children" or others under age 21.
As with Colorado's emergency marijuana rules unveiled last week, the Washington draft rules require pot products to carry health warnings and to come in child-resistant packaging.
Colorado's pot regulators have been instructed by state lawmakers to ban "mass-market campaigns that have a high likelihood of reaching minors," but have yet to detail their planned restrictions on advertising, marketing and signage.
Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, said it was weighing whether to tighten the rules around what sellers can put on marijuana product packaging.
"Obviously, we don't want cartoon characters on labels," he said.
Dante Jones, owner of the popular Seattle-based Manja Ganja line of baked marijuana goods as well as a medical marijuana dispensary, said he was confident that there is room for recreational-use packaging that appeals to adults while not drawing in children.
The Cheeba Chews pot candy that his dispensary carries, for example, come in monochrome wrappers warning they are "extremely potent."
"It's not about making packaging unattractive," Jones said. "There's room to create products that are simple and 2013-looking that aren't flashy and showy with bright colors."
(Editing by Steve Gorman and David Gregorio)