Cannabis flower Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut would require conspicuous warning labels for cannabis products advising consumers to keep them out of the reach of children under a proposal raised for a public hearing on Friday. 

The state legislature’s Committee on Children took testimony on the bill, which would also mandate that instructions to reach the Department of Consumer Protection’s guidelines for safe storage and disposal of cannabis either be printed on the product’s packaging or on its sale receipt.

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The warning statement required under the bill would read: “DO NOT USE CANNABIS IF UNDER 21. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.”

The proposal is one of many new policies under consideration by lawmakers this session, which began around the same time Connecticut’s first commercial cannabis retailers opened doors for business last month following the state’s legalization of the substance back in 2021. 

Friday’s hearing on labeling requirements prompted supportive testimony from youth and behavioral health advocates. State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan called the bill an important step and told the committee that the Connecticut Poison Control Center had observed a more than 300% increase in calls related to accidental cannabis ingestion over the last several years.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us as Connecticut has moved to legalize cannabis products,” Eagan said. “I think it will be very, very important to keep our eye on childrens’ access to products, particularly as we know there remains, despite prohibitions, products that are marketed as attractive to children.”

A file photo of state Child Advocate Sarah Eagan Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Although no child has died as a result of cannabis ingestion, she said the incidents often resulted in hospitalization and the state Child Fatality Review Board planned to keep a standing monthly agenda item to review critical incidents related to cannabis ingestion. 

In written testimony, Dr. Kevin Borrup, executive director of an injury prevention center at Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Medical Center said that accidental ingestion of cannabis had risen as many states have passed laws legalizing the substance. 

“We know that the vast majority of injuries, whether we are talking about firearm deaths, car crashes, or accidental cannabis or prescription drug ingestions are preventable,” Borrup wrote. 

State policymakers have considered strategies for raising public awareness of cannabis safety practices over the past year. Last September, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration launched an informational campaign on storage and disposal of cannabis products that included a series of animated videos. 

Meanwhile, warning labels on cannabis products was one of several new regulations proposed by House Republicans last month. The bill drafted by the Childrens’ Committee, which allows retailers to place the warning on a receipt, was less rigorous than the policy proposed by Republicans, which called for packaging labels referencing addiction, birth defects and psychosis. 

During Friday’s public hearing, policymakers contemplated expanding the information included on the proposed warnings. Eagan, the state child advocate, said poison control contact information could assist parents whose children accidentally ingest cannabis products.

“As the parent of three children, including a four-year-old, I have personally called poison control on a number of occasions and I can vouch for it being a terrific hotline,” Eagan said. “They’re so knowledgeable so I think that’s a great suggestion.” 

The bill requiring the cannabis product warning labels also included a provision tasking the Consumer Protection Department with administering a public awareness campaign on the products’ safe storage as well as another policy requiring warning labels to be placed on the containers or packaging of prescription drugs.

The latter element of the bill met some resistance on Friday from the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, which submitted written testimony opposing the legislation. Nathan Tinker, the group’s CEO, said prescriptions are already safely packaged and labeled and argued the bill would give patients the wrong impression.

“HB 6718 goes far beyond cannabis, conflating prescription drugs with adult-use cannabis products in a way that is both confusing and potentially dangerous,” Tinker wrote. “This bill treats prescription drugs and cannabis as essentially equivalent from the perspective of safety and access. They are not.”