Marijuana edibles experiment shows urgency for parents to have the 'edibles talk' with kids

Edibles look like regular cookies and candies

DENVER - New laws have created greater access to marijuana edibles for Colorado children, so CALL7 investigators wanted to put Denver-area kids to the test. Would they know the difference between their favorite sweet and a look-a-like infused with marijuana? 

"I think they're peach rings," guessed one child in an unscientific CALL7 experiment. Another child thought the marijuana chocolate "dixie" rolls were "chocolate covered pretzel sticks."

We wanted to see if they could tell the difference between what we referred to as the "grown-up" treats and the ones that were safe for them to eat.

Ensuring that the experiment was safe, CALL7 used five cameras, three crew members and allowed parents to watch everything unfold live on a monitor in the next room.

CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta told each child individually her one rule --  "we can't touch the treats."

CALL7 Investigators purchased three different edibles at a local dispensary -- snicker doodle cookies, chocolate "dixie" rolls, and some gummy candies. They were each placed on a plate next to a child-safe treat that looked similar to the edible.

The cookies remained in their individual wrappers, but the gummies were removed from the child-resistant bottle that came from the dispensary. The chocolate "dixie" rolls that resemble Tootsie rolls remained on their foil wrapper, but the wrapper was opened in order for the child to see the product.

When asked to choose between the Tootsie roll or the dixie roll, one boy immediately chose the marijuana candy.

"That makes me really, really nervous" said his mother.

Each of the children, ages 4 to 9, identified a marijuana treat to be safe for kids at least once during the experiment. They couldn't comprehend how something that looked so familiar could be just for grown-ups.

Even after being told multiple times one boy even asked, "are those really no-no-no's? ... Are the other ones really still no-no-no?"

The children could not differentiate between the sweets, but quickly identified bottles of wine and prescription medicine. They understood that those were "grown-up" items that they were not allowed to touch.

Unlike the distinctive smell of cigarettes or taste of alcohol, a child can't always tell whether there is a drug in a marijuana-infused edible. The kids made choices based on what appeared most like a sweet they had eaten before. When that didn't work, the kids changed their strategies differentiating the treats by size, color or appearance. 

By the end all of the kids simply seemed to give up, telling Marchetta "everything looks really good."

The kids were happy to be part of the experiment, but when Marchetta asked if it was fair to think that a kid could tell the difference between the options on the plate one kid simply said "no."

Mason Tvert, who helped lead the effort to pass Amendment 64, said the law has made marijuana use safe for everyone, including kids.

"Voters approved Amendment 64 because they wanted to ensure marijuana and marijuana-related products would be packaged properly and labeled properly. And people felt that it would make young people safer and less likely to get their hands on them."

But the parents, most of whom voted in favor of legalizing pot, said watching their children choose the marijuana edibles over and over was "scary."

They'd like to see the edibles have a different look all together.

Marchetta asked Tvert why the product itself had to appeal to children, but Tvert saw no difference between the marijuana edibles and alcoholic products like Mike's Hard Lemonade, cider, or Jell-O shots.

Parents were still concerned rhetorically asking, "Why does it have to look so much like something that’s enticing to kids?"

"Make it clearly different," stated another parent.

That’s something Rep. Frank McNulty, would like to see as well. He sponsored HB-1366 which would require the Department of Revenue to "adopt rules requiring edible retail marijuana products to be shaped, stamped, colored, or otherwise marked with a standard symbol indicating that it contains marijuana and is not for consumption by children."

Dr. Kari Franson, who served on a marijuana task for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said "we do have to try to figure out how to keep them safe. And part of it is dispensing in appropriate products and labeling them, and trying to make them not appealing to these kids would be important."

"How are parents even supposed to keep a watchful eye on their kids?" asked one concerned parent.

For now, parents can warn their kids to look for the Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement shield that is required to be on the packaging of all retail marijuana products.

The legislature will continue to draft and pass laws in an attempt to keep children safer. Those in the marijuana industry, like Tvert, support tighter regulations on dosage and labeling of edible products that the legislature may create.

For now, the new laws may mean parents will have to change the way they talk to their kids about drugs and when they will have that conversation.

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