Cannabis products for sale at the Bloom Room store in San Francisco on Jan. 11, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – One danger since California voters legalized recreational marijuana use in 2016 is increased access for children.  

On Tuesday, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, a Democrat from Thousand Oaks, promoted her bill that would prohibit licensed cannabis companies from advertising their products in ways that could attract children, including packaging that shows cartoons or animals, or looks similar to packaging for candy and snacks.

Irwin was joined in the virtual press conference by pediatricians and parent advocates who cited weak regulation and a lack of enforcement that have resulted in the rise of cannabis poisoning among young people. Between 2016 and 2020, emergency department visits in California related to cannabis use increased by 75%. And in 2021 alone, California had 793 cannabis exposure calls to poison control centers for children five or younger — an increase of 140% since in 2018.

The bill passed through the Assembly business committee, but Irwin will have to wait to see if the appropriations committee advances it to a floor vote.

  • Irwin: “It is, believe it or not, a difficult bill to get through the Legislature…. We do not have a large body of research yet, and the assumption is that cannabis use is safe. And I think that as we get more and more data in, we’re seeing otherwise.”

Cannabis manufacturers who stand to lose some money say that supporters of the bill have failed to connect those emergency visits with legal cannabis products, and that this legislation will end up empowering unlicensed marijuana companies to market their illegal products to children.

This issue has received less attention than some significant problems with the legal market overall, as CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff has written about extensively.

Taxes on legal cannabis and local restrictions on dispensaries have kept the illicit market alive and well. And plummeting prices have devastated the Emerald Triangle — long the center of cannabis cultivation in California.