Flavored cannabis marketing placed under scrutiny

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As cannabis shops continue to open in the U.S., some are raising concerns about packaging strategies that appear to target children and young adults.

States like New York, which opened its first legal recreational marijuana dispensary last month, have taken steps to outlaw flavored tobacco products like e-cigarettes; California, New Jersey and Rhode Island also have bans in place. For decades, health advocates have taken aim at the tobacco industry for marketing harmful nicotine products to youths. 

Now, critics reportedly say flavored cannabis – like "mad mango" and "peach dream" – should be under similar scrutiny. 

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People wait in line for the 4:20 p.m. ET grand opening of Housing Works Cannabis Co on Dec. 29, 2022, in New York City.  (Getty Images)

"We should learn from the nicotine space, and I certainly would advocate that we should place similar concern on cannabis products in terms of their appealability to youth," Katherine Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, told The Associated Press.

"If you go through a cannabis dispensary right now," she said, "it’s almost absurd how youth-oriented a lot of the packaging and the products are."

New York legalized recreational marijuana in March 2021 and forbids marketing and advertising that is "designed in any way to appeal to children or other minors."

Cannabis vaping products are showcased at Housing Works, New York’s first legal cannabis dispensary, Thursday Dec. 29, 2022, in New York. ((AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File) / AP Newsroom)

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However, the state's Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has not yet officially adopted rules on labeling, packaging and advertising that could ban the use of cartoons or neon colors.

"Consumers need to be aware — parents need to be aware — if they see products that look like other products that are commonly marketed to kids, that's an illicit market product," Lyla Hunt, OCM’s deputy director of public health and campaigns, said.

Under New York law, a minor in possession of marijuana would face a $50 fine and licensed cannabis retailers who sell to them would face penalties, including the loss of their licenses, but no jail time.

Flavored cannabis gummies are displayed in a cabinet at the Housing Works Cannabis Co., New York’s first legal cannabis dispensary, on Dec. 29, 2022, in New York.  ((AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah, File) / AP Newsroom)

Notably, while related health maladies and the addictive nature of nicotine have been long established, health repercussions from vaping and marijuana are continuously and heavily debated. 

In addition, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. 

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"That’s a real issue where you don’t have the weight of the federal government in terms of standards of packaging and marketing," to set parameters to avoid appealing marketing to young people, Linda Richter with the Partnership to End Addiction, told the AP.

The use of medical marijuana is currently allowed in 37 states and 21 allow recreational use.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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