Colorado’s learning curve will affect other states’ decisions on pot
December 22, 2014 9:48 AM EST

Walk into a recreational pot shop, and the glass jars of Cannabis indica and sativa often share shelf space with a far more familiar sight: chocolates, cookies and gummy candies. These THC-infused edibles are a key sector of the burgeoning industry, accounting for an estimated 45% of Colorado’s pot market. But the mind-altering products can look the same as regular snacks, and lawmakers and parents are concerned about them ending up in children’s hands.

Regulators setting up new marijuana markets in Oregon and Alaska, as well as those maintaining the market in Washington, will be watching closely to see how Colorado solves the edibles problem. Officials there are struggling to implement a law requiring all edibles to be “shaped, stamped, colored or otherwise marked” so that they’re identifiable even out of their packages. Finding a way to do that for products ranging from pastries to soda has been a challenge. A working group convened to decide the details–like whether all edibles should be bright green or shaped like a marijuana leaf–couldn’t agree on a solution, meaning that lawmakers and the state’s marijuana-enforcement division will be left to figure it out in the coming months.

In 2014, Colorado’s largest pediatric ER treated 14 kids who accidentally ingested marijuana; some were sedated enough to slip into a coma. That number has been rising since 2008, when the ER began keeping track. “We need to really dive into the problem,” says Michael DiStefano of Children’s Hospital Colorado. “Once they come out of the childproof packaging, you can’t tell a difference.”

That has led some officials to call for banning edibles that could be appealing to kids. But opponents of tighter regulation argue that having a range of products keeps people from buying on the black market, and they question whether banning or altering certain edibles will have any effect. “There’s no evidence that’s going to reduce the number of accidental ingestions beyond the imaginations of some vocal groups,” says Ian Barringer, who runs a marijuana-testing lab in Boulder. Parents, he says, need to focus on keeping edibles “out of sight and out of reach.”

Expect the fight to get even messier. State representative Jonathan Singer, who wrote the edibles-regulation law, says there will likely be a push to repeal the measure.

This appears in the December 29, 2014 issue of TIME.

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