Cannabis buds
Cannabis buds. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Seeking to curb a spike in kids accidentally ingesting cannabis products, the legislature’s Committee on Children advanced a proposal Thursday that would require warning labels for products containing the substance as well as labels for prescription drugs.

Lawmakers voted to move the proposal out of committee with some alterations during a midday meeting. The bill would require warning labels on both cannabis products and drugs dispensed by pharmacies. It would use state resources, including money from legal settlements with opioid distributors, to fund the required warnings for two years.

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The legislation also temporarily funds state compliance investigators and public awareness campaigns on the safe storage of cannabis products.

“This language is really coming out of the increased children in the country who are ingesting marijuana products so we have decided that the labeling needs to be very specific towards the dangers of children and storage not just to the dangers of usage,” Rep. Liz Linehan, a Cheshire Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said.

The bill is one of several new regulations being considered by state policymakers this year as Connecticut takes its first steps into the world of commercial cannabis sales. Legalized under a 2021 law, a handful of adult-use cannabis retailers opened their doors to business in January. 

But as the products have become more easily available in Connecticut and elsewhere, doctors and child advocates have observed an increase in kids accidentally eating cannabis products, particularly THC-infused edible foods and snacks, which are not always clearly identifiable as cannabis goods.

During a hearing last month, State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan 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.

Although cannabis labeling requirements were among the ideas proposed by House Republicans earlier this session, Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, opposed the bill on Thursday. 

She argued against the legislation’s inclusion of prescription drugs, which she said were already well-regulated. Pharmacies should not have to bear the burden of an eventual extra cost when state support for the warnings runs out, she said.

Meanwhile, Mastrofrancesco opposed the funding included in the bill to initially offset the cost of those warning labels for cannabis retailers. She said money from opioid-related legal settlements should be funding rehab programs rather than warning stickers. 

“It’s ironic that marijuana — I don’t even know how to put it — is a gateway to other drugs and you’re admitting it pretty much by putting a label on it, which is fine,” she said. “But clearly, the establishment who owns that facility should be paying for it and that money should be really used to help people that truly need it.”

Linehan rejected the premise of Mastrofrancesco’s argument, saying that there was no consensus around the often-repeated claim that pot represented a gateway drug. Besides, Linehan said, the warnings were intended to prevent accidental consumption of the substance by children rather than discouraging knowing consumers.

“When it comes to children, we’re talking about accidental ingestion and so these kids aren’t making decisions themselves to start doing drugs, they’re edibles that look like gummy bears and they’re eating them and that’s the problem,” she said. “What we do here on the Children’s Committee is we create policy that is focused on the safety and well-being of kids. This legislation falls squarely into that camp.”