Anti-cannabis, industry forces collide on proposed California labeling law
Much like it was for the tobacco warning issue dating back to the 1960s, product labeling is about to blow up in a cannabis industry versus health care and youth groups’ showdown.
A panel of doctors, youth groups and parents assembled Thursday in a virtual press conference called for more product warnings on packages and support for California Senate Bill 1097 — the Cannabis Right to Know Act.
It was introduced in mid-February by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and is headed into a Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee hearing April 4. Pan, a pediatrician by trade, led the media conference call that featured parents who attributed their children’s death and homelessness to overuse of the substance still considered illegal by the federal government — but not in California.
Pan told the group that consumer warnings are necessary for cannabis sales, “like (those on) tobacco products that exist across the world.” He specifically took aim at “harmful additives” and other contaminants that allegedly go into cannabis products now.
Additives were defined by the physician groups as flavoring agents such as “terpene pinene” that may affect the lungs, they indicated, adding the state Department of Cannabis Control stepping in to issue guidelines “is good.” The doctors also listed mold, pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals as other potential problems.
And even though government warnings about the “intoxicating effects” already exist on cannabis product labels, Pan said the current ones don’t go far enough.
“I authored the Cannabis Right to Know Act because current health warnings required for cannabis products are insufficient to communicate well-established health risks, especially to our youth,” he said.
The bill points to a significant increase in the percentage of California teens between the ages of 12 to 17 using cannabis between 2016 and 2019, citing a report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
While industry advocates and manufacturers dismissed the effort to upgrade warnings, bill backers said risks from cannabis use include “adverse effects” on mental health, driving under the influence and lung damage.
The new rotating labels would mandate others with a bright yellow background and about a 12-point font. For example, here’s how one reads: “Cannabis use may contribute to mental health problems, including psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Risk is greatest for frequent users and when using products with high THC levels.”
THC is the ingredient in cannabis that makes users high.
Also on the call, was Jim Keddy, executive director of Youth Forward, a Sacramento-based children’s advocacy group. Keddy said “the risk to youth is high,” especially since so many cannabis companies target the younger set in their product marketing.
He singled out a billboard on Fruitridge Road in Sacramento for the Eaze delivery service. The advertisement spelled out the name of a cannabis product in gummies. Another one on the same street touts a dispensary’s cannabis-containing gelato and biscotti, products otherwise familiar to kids.
Keddy noted that in the run-up to the 2016 California voter approval of recreational cannabis use by adults, backers promised to refrain from marketing the product to children.
The Business Journal asked him whether there were regrets the landmark ballot initiative passed.
“When it was voted on, it was impossible to see what would emerge of the commercial cannabis industry,” Keddy said.
At the news conference, promoters of the legislation offered physicians who endorse the bill on behalf of more than 50 health care organizations, and parents who back it, claiming their children were harmed by cannabis use.
A few of them were on the conference call in tears.
Bart Bright of Benicia in Solano County insisted his 29-year-old son Kevin, who committed suicide in August 2018, had a years-long “addiction” to marijuana.
“He chose marijuana over his friendships. Kevin ended his life, but our lives will never be the same. It’s too late for Kevin, but not too late for others,” said Bright, who endorses the bill. He started a virtual support group for about 700 other parents struggling with the same pain and anguish.
Physicians on the call cited reports to back their claims.
The bill cites a 2021 study by National Institutes of Health researchers who found major increases in suicidal ideas among cannabis users nationally, even those without major depression. The risk tripled with daily use.
This isn’t the first time health warnings on product labels generated massive public and industry dialogue.