Washington State Enforces Ban on Candy-like Cannabis Edibles
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The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) is tightening restrictions on edible cannabis products available in the state following several complaints from the general public that some products being sold may in-fact be breaking state laws.
Under Washington state law, cannabis processors and producers are limited in the type of cannabis-infused edible products they can make and sell in the state. These limitations are outlined under the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 314-55-077 which includes restrictions on infusing foods such as canned foods or dairy products with cannabis.
In addition to specific categories of foodstuffs, the WAC also prohibits the cannabis infusion of any food products “that are especially appealing to children” as a public safety measure to reduce the risk of children and young people accidentally ingesting cannabis products. It is this more generalized rule that has prompted the state to reevaluate the products available within the state.
Results of the product review
Following evaluation, the WSLCB published a presentation on their website explaining their findings.
The WSLCB review found that as per the public complaints, there were several edible products that had been approved by the state for sale despite seeming to be “especially appealing to children”. This was redefined as candies that are brightly colored, novelty shaped, or in any other way similar to commercially available sweets that are marketed towards children. Several products available in the state were found to meet these criteria, including various hard candies, tarts, fruit chews, and jellies.
Companies responsible for producing edibles that are in violation of this clause have been ordered to immediately cease production on those product lines. Licensed cannabis retailers have been given permission to sell through the remainder of their stock until it is all sold, or until April 3 2019, whichever comes first.
Cannabis processors must resubmit all labels and products to WSLCB for product evaluation to make sure products do not fall in line with this new definition of “especially appealing to children”. The WSLCB will notify processors if product approval for any product line is being rescinded.
What edibles will be allowed in the state?
The WSLCB has made it clear that this is not an explicit ban on edibles, it is just a stricter interpretation of a pre-existing law. This interpretation and product review is to correct the past mistakes of the WSLCB in approving a small number of products that could arguably be appealing to children. Despite these restrictions, the WSLCB has said that there will still be a wide range of sweet edible products available for consumers.
Cannabis infused beverages, baked goods, capsules, chips and crackers, sauces, and tinctures will all still be available for sale. Products such as chocolate, cookies, caramels, and mints will be allowed on a case-by-case basis provided their appearance doesn’t violate the stricter interpretation of the child safety clause.
For example, cannabis-infused chocolates must not be artificially colored and must be either in the shape of a standard chocolate bar or ball. Cookies must not be decorated with sprinkles or frosting, and mints are only permitted to be colored white or white with small color flecks to indicate the mint flavor.
The opinion of local businesses
Since there was technically no law change, the WSLCB was not required to hold a period for public comment or give businesses advance warning to bring their operations in line with this new definition. As a result, the announcement triggered a significant amount of panic in the Washington cannabis industry, particularly among companies that specialize in producing edible cannabis products.
Several cannabis producers gave statements to the Seattle Times in the wake of the announcement, for the most part criticizing the WSLCB.
Bob Ramstad, the owner of the Fremont-based cannabis store Oz, described the decision of the WSLCB to ban products that were previously approved as “shocking” and went on to say “their interpretation of ‘exceedingly attractive to children’ is ridiculous”. Logan Bowers, owner of the Hashtag Cannabis stores in Fremont and Redmond, echoed Ramstad’s view, adding that while safety will always remain a number one priority, he is “concerned that whole categories of products are being tossed out categorically”.
“I don’t see how a chew is inherently more enticing to a child than a cookie,” Bowers continued. “Children love cookies.”
One of the businesses that could be hit hardest by this new interpretation is Craft Elixirs, a cannabis edibles company that specializes in the production of cannabis-infused “artisan candied fruit chews” called Pioneer Squares.
According to the company's president, Jamie Hoffman, these chews make up around 84 percent of her company’s business. Additionally, she received approval from the WSLCB to begin production of a new flavor only two months ago. Following the announcement, Hoffman is now in contact with a representative from the WSLCB to determine whether her products are now going to be encompassed by this new definition.
The WSLCB has stated that all cannabis companies whose products are found to be “exceedingly attractive to children” will be given the right to appeal the decision.
In their presentation, the WSLCB also announced the intention to hold a webinar on October 16 to address the questions and concerns of those in the Washington state cannabis industry. The date of this webinar has since been postponed until mid-November following ongoing discussion between the WSLCB, the Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments, the Cannabis Alliance, and the Washington Cannabusiness Association concerning the product review process. As well as the webinar postponement, the product review has also been paused during this time in the spirit of transparency.