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By Jelani Gibson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider, NJ.com’s B2B cannabis industry trade journal and events vertical, is hosting the state’s foremost business conference on Oct. 12. Tickets are limited. A state lawmaker wants to make it a crime for parents whose children gain access to their cannabis. The states regulatory entity, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, already has regulations in place governing packaging, but Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Morris) wants to add criminal penalties in the form of a disorderly person’s offense. “An increasing number of children are gaining access to cannabis products following the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana in New Jersey. Children are overdosing on edibles, not only because they are legal, but because they resemble benign candies and treats,” Dunn said in a press release. “It is time the Legislature put the proper safeguards in place to protect children by codifying the packaging regulations created by the cannabis commission.” Dunn said the number of poison control calls for children ingesting cannabis roughly doubled over a four-year span from 73 calls in 2019 to 162 calls in 2022. She also cited data from the National Poison Data Center that 486 residents experienced dangerous cannabis exposure in 2021, with the majority of access occurring for those who were five years or younger. Data from the center indicated that cannabis makes up a small percentage of adverse reporting, resulting in roughly 1% of all poison exposures. While cannabis can cause detrimental side effects for those who use too much or are younger, there have been no documented cases of fatal overdoses. Among the top five poison exposures from the data center were analgesics, cleaning substances, cosmetic and personal care products, sedatives and antidepressants. Those substances have involved fatal outcomes, but do not traditionally fall under criminal penalties nor has it garnered the same call from legislators to be regulated in such a manner. “Adults should be locking up their marijuana along with their liquor. The same precautions need to be taken, because there are similar consequences,” Dunn said. “Responsible adults are caring and careful; however, New Jersey has an obligation to protect children as the marijuana market continues to expand.” Despite that statement, when pressed on whether or not the law would require cannabis to be locked up and whether it was patterned after gun control laws that encourages firearms to be locked up, a Republican spokesperson said the law designates no such thing and was patterned more after alcohol. Additionally, Dunn’s law does not specifically designate what easy access or safe storage would be. “The goal is to treat cannabis in the same way that alcohol is legally treated, not for the government to dictate how parents should go about storage,” said Todd Riffle, a deputy executive director for the New Jersey General Assembly Republican Office. “There is plenty of precedent enforcing alcohol laws to avoid that confusion. I don’t really want to vet every possible scenario, but I suppose if a household had toddlers, and the cannabis was stored on a top shelf of a kitchen cabinet, you could reasonably conclude the child would not have access.” Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison and Information System at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and an associate professor of emergency medicine, authored an op-ed in 2019 calling for many of the regulations the state cannabis commission would eventually adopt for safe packaging and the sale of cannabis. “Our society is in the midst of a cannabis revolution, and we must commit to answering the many questions that remain. This means research funding and cooperation of experts on all sides as the process evolves,” she said. “For legalization to succeed, safety must be our highest priority.” Jelani Gibson is content lead for NJ Cannabis Insider. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jelanigibson1 and on LinkedIn.