Last week California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a “consumer alert” warning Californians that cannabis-infused edibles are being packaged and sold as copycat versions of popular food and candy products.
The California Department of Justice is advising consumers that illegal and unregulated edibles may contain dangerously high levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis, and they are available in packaging nearly identical to those of popular brands like Cheetos, Fruity Pebbles, and Sour Patch Kids.
Bonta is urging Californians not to consume these dangerous knockoffs and to report the products if they encounter them.
“While cannabis-infused edibles packaged to look like our favorite brands may seem harmless and fun, the dangers of consuming unregulated and untested cannabis products are high, particularly for children and teens,” Bonta said. “The fact is: here in California, we have a safe, regulated, and legal cannabis market. But if a product is being marketed to children, mimicking a well-known consumer brand, and advertising sky-high levels of THC — it’s not likely to be a part of it.”
Cannabis-infused edibles describes any food or drink containing marijuana or any of its active ingredients, most often THC and cannabidiol (CBD), according to the Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab (RVDAR), a California drug rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment program.
Generally, the edible product is infused with cannabis extract. Marijuana is heated in an oil-based liquid to obtain the extract, RVDAR explains.
“Compared to other ways of consuming marijuana, edibles are known for producing a delayed high. Further, they may be more discreetly consumed than marijuana from a blunt, vape pen or bong,” according to RVDAR.
The California cannabis industry is regulated by the state’s Business and Professions Code and is covered by the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA).
According to Bonta, the edible products sold by unlicensed operators, often contain levels of THC that exceed the legal limit, and are advertised to youth in violation of MAUCRSA, which sets up a basic framework for product licensing, oversight and enforcement.
Cannabis businesses have to follow the same rules that other businesses in California follow. For example, there are rules in the statutes about waste disposal, protecting the environment, vehicle registration and paying taxes.
Bonta’s office makes the following recommendations:
IDENTIFY LOOKALIKE PRODUCTS:
Californians should look for copycat packaging with language that indicates that the product contains cannabis — such as “medicated,” “THC,” “CBD,” “keep out of reach of children and animals,” and/or an image of a cannabis leaf.
In California, legal cannabis products must be affixed with the universal symbol that includes an encircled triangle with a marijuana leaf and exclamation mark in it. It letters CA are imprinted below it. If you see indications of copycat packaging or do not see the universal symbol, the product is illicit — and may be dangerous.
KNOW THE HEALTH RISKS:
Illegal cannabis products present a risk to public health and safety. Children can experience a variety of delayed symptoms upon ingesting cannabis edibles, including, but not limited to difficulty breathing, lethargy, dizziness, nausea, and loss of coordination.
Illegal products made with synthetic cannabinoids may pose additional health risks. Synthetic cannabinoids can be highly toxic and are illegal in the state of California. Side effects of consuming synthetic cannabinoids include rapid heart rate, agitation, vomiting, trouble breathing, psychosis, among others.
In recent years, California has seen a surge in pediatric exposure and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) visits related to cannabis edibles, as well as an increase in children as young as 12 who are intentionally using cannabis products.
In 2020, there were 1,173 calls to the Poison Control Center for services related to children aged 0-19 ingesting cannabis products. This is up from 404 calls in 2016, with the biggest increase for children aged 0-5.
California has also seen a rise in emergency room visits related to cannabis poisoning among young children. In 2016, there were approximately 21 visits per one million Californians aged 0-5. In 2020, there were approximately 113 visits.
Bonta’s office insists that if a child has accidentally consumed these illicit products, monitor them for symptoms of intoxication. California’s Poison Control System has a 24-hour hotline available for immediate assistance.
The toll-free phone number is (800) 222-1222. Language interpreter services are offered in over 200 different languages and calls are kept confidential.
Upon encountering lookalike cannabis-infused edible products, Bonta is asking the public to file a complaint with the Department of Justice and with the Department of Cannabis Control.