NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Dangers of marijuana: Doctors & parents push for legislation to regulate marketing

marijuana label for safety
Posted at 9:13 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 00:13:16-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Marijuana snack food packages are bright, using vibrant colors kids like blues, yellows, and greens. However, the Federal government is not fond of that colorful style.

The Federal Trade Commission sent cease and desist letters to marijuana snack manufacturers in July 2023, targeting the makers of Stoneos, meant to look like Oreos, Doritos Nacho Cheese THC Infused Chips mimicking Doritos, Stoner Patch Delta 8 Gummies, and Medicated Jolly Rancher Gummies. All of those products contained a form of THC called Delta-8, which the FTC says in its letters “may pose a serious health risk to consumers.”

The FDA received "more than 125 adverse event reports" related to children and adults who consumed edible products containing THC.

Medical experts on child addiction critical of the legal marijuana industry say these copycats are designed to appeal to young people — products such as gummies, cookies, peanut butter cups and even colorful sodas to wash them all down.

“It confuses the mind and when you start to normalize that product and market it as something as safe, our mind gets confused," Dr. Natalie Laub, a nationally known pediatrician from San Diego’s Rady Children’s Hospital, told Team 10. "We lose the ability to go ‘Danger, danger, danger,' because it looks like something we know as non-dangerous."

RELATED: 'I thought I had lost her': Doctors warn of marijuana edibles’ danger for kids

Parents like Adriana Ching, whose son Samuel is battling psychosis from heavy marijuana usage, say making it legal and attractive with products like high-dose, fruit-flavored vapes has transformed the corner dealer selling what they grew in the backyard into what is now a sophisticated billion-dollar industry, according to state records.

“They make it look like it’s fun, something you need to do," Ching says.

Samuel’s addiction began with high-dose, fruit-flavored vape oils. The concentrated THC is many times more potent than marijuana from the '70s, and the products are now readily available at most dispensaries, according to medical experts Team 10 interviewed.

“I believe my son was part of an experiment that we did not sign up for," Ching says.

Doctors Laub and Roneet Lev, a noted emergency physician at San Diego’s Scripps Mercy Hospital, worked together on a child marijuana safety bill in California in 2023, designed to rid legal marijuana of its bright colors, fruit flavors and snack imposters.

They say the legal marijuana industry is following the example of tobacco in the '70s when Joe Camel sold cigarettes.

“What did the tobacco companies do? They started to put cartoons right on their packaging. The cannabis industry is doing the same thing, right?" Dr. Laub says. "They’re making their marketing bright and colorful with animals and balloons and shapes that make children go 'Wow, that’s so cool.'"

The bill would also modify labels to warn of the harmful effects of marijuana, especially on children.

Dr. Lev emphasized the difference in their missions.

“They want more marijuana use, we want just the data, the science to be on the packaging," Lev says. "Warnings such as ‘Uncontrollable vomiting, psychosis, depression, suicide, drug interactions.”

RELATED: Dangers of Marijuana: How high-potency weed & oil can damage the teenage brain

Their proposed legislation passed both houses of the California State Legislature, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it. In a statement, the governor called the bill “overly broad."

His office did not reply to repeated requests for comment on his veto. However, the state's Department of Cannibis Control did respond.

The director, Nicole Elliott, contends that the legislation “would sweep [away] commonplace designs where it would not be protecting children in the way it was intended and could perhaps unintentionally harm certain operators."

It’s a tricky situation for the state.

Those operators she mentioned are part of an industry that sends lots of money to California coffers: $1 billion in taxes in 2023, according to state records.

And while the state says it already has regulations against using bright colors to entice teens and children to get high, Team 10 legally obtained several products from gummies to cookies to sodas last month at a dispensary in north San Diego county.

Elliot says that concerns her.

“As a mother of two children under the age of 4, that is something that I care deeply about," she says.

Elliot says the state is hoping for new legislation in 2024 that would address the potency of marijuana, marketing and advertising that targets children, all while keeping candy and snack look-a-likes from enticing the young.

“This is a very timely subject," she says.

This is a subject that is top of mind for parents who grew up believing marijuana is harmless, only to see it morph into products that barely resemble yesterday’s weed.

One parent of a young man now addicted to marijuana and suffering from psychosis says he was tricked into nonchalance because he didn’t know the strength of today’s fruit-flavored marijuana vapes. Medical experts say the potent THC oil can damage the brain and even lead to suicide.

“If it grows out of the ground in your house, yea that’s fine. But these processed, super potent strains and oils have nothing to do with a natural product," the parent says.

Today’s marijuana is abundant, powerful and attractive to the eye, but according to medical experts, it's more dangerous than ever.

The FTC won’t reveal the response of the six companies it sent the cease and desist letters, but a government source tells Team 10 all complied with the "order." Only one of the marijuana snack makers responded to Team 10, and she said she complied but complained that her store only sells to adults, and once the product, no matter what it looks like, leaves the store, it's up to the parents and adults to keep it away from kids.