With a goal to “inform potential regulation of cannabis-infused foods specifically with regard to protecting minors from consumption of these foods,” research from the University of Washington’s Cannabis Law and Policy Project (a study commissioned by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board) has identified specific factors that attract children to foods.

The research is making waves in Colorado where marijuana-infused edibles manufactured in animal shapes are already prohibited for minors (the ruling will go into effect in 2017).  However, the report’s author as well as some legislators and citizens are asking for even stricter laws related to edibles to further ensure they stay out of the hands of Colorado’s minors.

What Attracts Children to Foods?

According to the report, there are five key factors that influence a child’s interest in an edible:

  1. Color
  2. Shape
  3. Odor
  4. Taste
  5. Marketing (including branding, advertising, packaging, and more)

The research found that no single factor of those listed above has a higher likelihood of swaying a child to a particular edible product, but when multiple factors are considered, a child’s behavior is far more likely to change.

Based on the data collected in the study, it was determined that children are most attracted to novel shapes (e.g., animals and fruit) rather than conventional shapes (e.g., squares and circles). They’re also most attracted to the colors red, orange, yellow, and green as well as to sweet, fruity, or candy-like odors.

Minors and Marijuana Laws

The problem causing concern related marijuana edibles is accidental ingestion. Children see marijuana edibles lying around their houses, pick them up, and eat them. The result is a trip to the emergency room. Regulation is intended to fix the problem.

Whether or not you agree that further regulation is the correct solution, one thing is certain. State and local governments are quick to create laws to curb marijuana use by minors.

Cannabiz Media is developing a state-by-state report of the marijuana industry that will be available soon, and part of that report focuses on minors. For example, data in the Cannabiz Media database shows all states that have legalized medical marijuana for adults have also legalized it for minors. However, some states’ laws make it much more difficult for minors to actually get medical marijuana.

More specifically, it’s much easier for a minor to access medical marijuana in California or Washington, D.C. than it is in Connecticut, Delaware, or Illinois. Given other states’ concerns about edibles, it’s interesting to note that in Illinois, minors can obtain medical marijuana only in liquid or edible form after meeting a variety of conditions.

In total, seven of the 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana do not allow edibles at all. The Cannabiz Media database identifies those states as Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.

It’s important to note that while a state might not ban edible marijuana products, local governments might be allowed to do so. For example, edibles are legal in Arizona but prohibited in Coconino County, Arizona.

It’s interesting to consider that manufacturers are producing more and more prescription drugs, vitamins, and so on in shapes, flavors, and colors that make them more appealing to children – in order to encourage children to “take their medicine.” But at the same time, laws are being written to make medical marijuana edibles less appealing to children.

Laws related to minors are far more similar to alcohol and tobacco laws, but again, state laws vary as do local government regulations. So far, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution when it comes to the problem of children accidentally ingesting marijuana edibles.

It’s a confusing and constantly changing industry, but Cannabiz Media is tracking it all. Sign up for Daily or Weekly License Alerts or subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss when the state-by-state report is released!

Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.