Cannabis and Kids: California Assembly Advances Bill to Address Pediatric Poisonings

The Cannabis Candy Child Safety Act, Assembly Bill (AB) 1207, authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), passed the Assembly with a 61-0 vote on May 25.

By Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

The Cannabis Candy Child Safety Act, Assembly Bill (AB) 1207, authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), passed the Assembly with a 61-0 vote on May 25.

The bill aims to tackle the recent surge in pediatric poisonings and hospitalizations caused by the consumption of cannabis products.

AB 1207 — focused on the packaging and advertising of cannabis products –was introduced on the Senate floor for the first time on May 26 – a day after it cleared the Assembly.

“When Prop 16 was passed in 2016, there was a distinct promise to California voters that legalization of recreational cannabis would not come at the expense of our children,” said Irwin on the Assembly floor before members voted on the bill last week.

“But in reality, the very opposite has occurred. Poison Control Center calls due to pediatric exposures has skyrocketed since 2016, and they will only continue to increase as time passes,” Irwin continued her statement to her colleagues. “In 2021, California had 793 cannabis exposure calls to Poison Control Centers for children five years of age and under.”

According to Irwin, both illegal and illicit cannabis products are contributing to the rise in poisoning among children.

Since the passage of Proposition (Prop) 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, companies have marketed hundreds of legal cannabis products in California that resemble candies and foods. These products are known to appeal to children and youth, proponents of the legislation claim. For

example, a fruit-flavored, high-potency cannabis e-joint that mimics the now-banned JUUL nicotine e-cigarettes is known to attract teenagers.

Prop. 64 was a voter-led initiative in 2016 that legalized cannabis in the California. The law made possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis or cannabis products legal for those over 21 years of age.

Supporters of AB 1207 claim the bill upholds the promise and intent of Prop 64 by introducing measures to protect children and youth. The bill more clearly defines and prohibits products, packaging, and marketing that appeal to children or and teenagers, and prohibits flavored cannabis products known to hook kids.

“We must protect our children from the reckless labeling and marketing of cannabis products that are designed to be attractive to them,” Irvin posted to her Twitter account on May 22.

Irwin’s legislation aligns with other California laws that have made it illegal to sell flavored and vapor products to anyone under the age of 21.

California Controller Malia Cohen led the movement to eliminate the sale of vapor products, menthol cigarettes, and flavored cigars in the city of San Francisco when she was member of the Board of Supervisors there.

The products were eliminated because of the danger they presented to children. Now Irwin is focused on systemic regulatory failures and widespread cannabis commercialization that has led to Cannabis products within reach of the youth.

Irwin shared the data below to support her argument for increased restrictions:

* Annual cannabis exposures reported to California Poison Control increased from below 200 in 2010 to over 1600 by 2020; 50% involved children, with half being under the age 12. There were only 16 total reported gummy exposures between 2010 and 2015 vs. 409 in 2020 alone.

* Cannabis-related emergency department visits in California increased by 75% between 2016 and 2020, mainly involving the consumption of plant material, followed by edibles, concentrates and vaping products, demonstrating that the problem extends beyond just edibles.

* At Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, children under age 10 testing positive for THC quadrupled since 2016, mostly from edibles, of which three quarters were from candies or gummies. Half led to hospitalization and one in ten to intensive care, costing over $15 million dollars just at one hospital.

Pediatricians, parents, public health, education, and youth advocacy groups joined California Assemblymember Irwin in a virtual press conference in support of AB 1207.

Dr. Natalie Laub, researcher at Rady Children’s Hospital and UC San Diego, has conducted research on accidental cannabis ingestion by children. Dr. Laub states that San Diego County accidental ingestions have increased from fewer than 10 cases in 2019 to 100 in 2022.

The issue can be prevented, Dr. Laub said.

“I have seen hundreds of young children become ill, many critically ill, after accidentally eating cannabis that looks like candy,” said Dr. Natalie Laub, Pediatrician and researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “With every child I see, I ask the same question…why does a drug that could kill a child have to look like a gummy bear? The answer is it doesn’t. AB 1207 would help keep cannabis products that look like candy out of the hands and bodies of our young children.”