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Edible marijuana risks demand strict rules

A Washington state woman who suffered an apparent overdose after eating candy containing marijuana has police concerned, and a state legislator who heads the committee charged with implementing legal marijuana in Oregon has vowed to move slowly when it comes to approving edible marijuana products. Moving slowly may not be enough — legislators should take steps to put strict and specific limits on the types of marijuana "candies" allowed to be sold in the state.

Edible forms of marijuana can contain extremely high concentrations of the active ingredient in marijuana, posing a hazard to users inexperienced with ingesting marijuana and unfamiliar with its effects. Several incidents of overdoses have been reported in Colorado, where voters legalized recreational marijuana  a year ago.

Most concerning is the increase in cases of children treated after ingesting edible marijuana products, which are indistinguishable from ordinary candy and cookies. In Colorado, at least 14 children ages 3 to 7 were sent to hospitals in the first half of 2014 for accidentally ingesting marijuana products, compared with eight in all of 2013 and four between 2008 and 2011.

In the Oregon incident, a 37-year-old Washington state woman ate three small gummie candies provided by a friend who had purchased them in Washington. The woman was slumped over, pale and lethargic and having difficulty breathing. She refused transport to a hospital and apparently suffered no lasting effects.

Drug specialists warn that, while the effects of smoking marijuana are quickly apparent, it takes much longer for the effects to be felt when the drug is swallowed, so users may eat more while waiting. 

This is an example of the advantage Oregon has by being the third state to legalize recreational marijuana. The drug does not become legal to possess here until July, and won't be available for retail purchase until January 2016. That leaves plenty of time to craft  limits and regulations to protect consumers.

In the case of "edibles," lawmakers should adopt strict rules for appearance and packaging to keep the products out of children's hands, and require detailed warnings for adults on how to avoid ingesting too much. There is no need to allow more than a bare minimum of the edibles to be sold; the risks far outweigh any benefit to consumers or retailers.