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Missouri extends grace period for marijuana 'plain packaging' rules meant to protect kids

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By Gretta Cross

Less than a year after recreational marijuana first hit the shelves in Missouri, the state is cracking down on just how appealing marijuana product packaging can be. New rules, governing the number and types of colors, symbols and text that can be displayed on marijuana products, go into effect next year.

The deadline — now set for Jan. 31, 2024 — was extended from the original date of July 30 to give manufacturers and dispensaries a longer grace period to sell existing products.

Missourians voted in favor of the constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana in November 2022 and marijuana products became recreationally available in dispensaries in February.

The amendment included language stating marijuana and marijuana-infused products should not be attractive to children or manufactured in shapes or packages that are "easily confused with commercially sold candy that does not contain marijuana."

The amendment allows the Department of Health and Senior Services to expand on these regulations. Throughout March, DHSS received more than 800 public comments suggesting changes to the regulations, which were taken into account for the new, final rules.

DHSS' new rules limit packaging to one primary package color and up to two logos or symbols that can be of different colors. These logos or symbols cannot be larger than the clearly printed word, "Marijuana" in black or white text.

Additionally, the following warning should be printed on all marijuana products: "Cognitive and physical impairment may result from the use of marijuana. Keep out of reach of children."

Any violation of these rules may result in a penalty up to $5,000.

Missouri's decision to implement stricter packaging rules for marijuana products, according to DHSS, is for the safety of children.

The Missouri Poison Center has collected data on the number of marijuana-induced poisonings in children since 2015, which has steadily increased. Amanda Ruback, community outreach coordinator, told the News-Leader that the number of these poisonings has risen from four in 2015 to 125 in 2022 in children under the age of five.

Ruback said most marijuana-induced poisoning reports are related to edible products, like cookies and gummies. She added that 34% of the reported poisonings involve two-year-old children who are in their "prime exploration stage."

The number of reported poisonings started to double year-to-year in 2019, when medical marijuana became available in Missouri. Ruback said she expects the data from this year to be the "most telling," with the legalization of recreational.

This year already, the number of reported poisonings has been in the double digits each month, with 23 reports in April. Ruback said in comparison, there were nine reports in April 2022.

'Plain packaging' trend

Several other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have stricter regulations for product packaging. Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey are among states implementing "plain packaging," according to the Network for Public Health Law. What these regulations look like differs by state.

Connecticut requires packages be uniformly one color, with edible marijuana products in completely white packaging. Massachusetts requires packaging to be plain with no bright colors and New Jersey requires single-color packaging with no logos or symbols of different colors.

Missouri's new rules also outline regulations for product containment. All marijuana product packaging, excluding seeds and plants, should be resealable, opaque and child resistant. If a marijuana product is packaged within several containers, the inner-most container, closest to the product, must be compliant with this regulation.

Starting Sept. 1, manufacturers will have to receive approval from the DHSS' Division of Cannabis Regulation for new packaging, labeling and product design to ensure they are compliant with the new rules. If approved, the manufacturer will receive an approval number that must be printed on the product packaging.

Understanding that manufacturers may have existing products packaged in ways that are not compliant with the new rules, DHSS is allowing manufacturers to use existing packaging through Jan. 31. On Feb. 1, 2024, all products that are not compliant with the new rules must be pulled from shelves and any products that do not have a Division of Cannabis Regulation-issues approval number will be discontinued.

Mixed response from manufacturers

Tony Billmeyer, chief marketing officer of Show-Me Organics, said the company is hoping for more "clarity" from the DHSS about the new rules before taking next steps.

Show-Me Organics manages Vivid, Blue Sage Cannabis Deli, Missouri's Own Edibles and Buoyant Bob. Billmeyer said he anticipates that Show-Me Organics will have to redesign nearly all of its dozens of products to meet the new requirements, which would take a minimum of four months.

Show-Me Organics believes, Billmeyer said, that DHSS is pushing for packaging regulations to look and feel more like a pill bottle.

"The challenge with that is cannabis is an incredibly complex product that has lots of varying properties," Billmeyer said. "If you imagine a similar category like wine ... If you thought of walking into a wine store and all the labels are pretty much just about consumer safety, I don't know if that's actually going to help. People find a lot of benefits from just being able to navigate things visually."

DHSS' new rules place a new strain, Billmeyer said, on both the consumer and manufacturer.

"When you look holistically at the cannabis market from a global perspective, Missouri is in a really good spot and has set up an industry that, unlike the rest, is sustainable," Billmeyer said. "This is now putting a new burden on operators to completely change something we'd already built, that we feel really good about."

On the other hand, Mark Hendren, president of Flora Farms, said he is confident that the manufacturer's products are compliant with the new rules. Aside from adjusting a few font types and sizes, Hendren said there is "nothing major" he anticipates needing to change. In the case that packaging would need to be altered, Hendren said the process can take between two to four months, between coming up with a new design and seeing it in person.

"I think we all have the same goal and that's to avoid any deceptive of particularly attractive packaging that may ... allure minors to get into something they shouldn't," Hendren said.

More:Here's how to talk to your children about marijuana, now that recreational weed is legal

Per amendment requirements, all marijuana sold in Missouri (included marijuana in marijuana-infused products), must be grown in Missouri. While Flora Farms and Vivid are headquartered in Missouri, there are many popular product brands headquartered elsewhere, which may lead to the rebrand of entire products or just the rebrand of products sold in the state.

The News-Leader contacted Smokiez Edibles, Keef Brands, Proper Brands, WYNK and Mountain High Suckers, who all sell marijuana-infused products in Missouri. The News-Leader was unable to connect with company spokespeople by press deadline.


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