How Should Colorado Regulate Edibles?

The state's health commission has recommended removing food laced with marijuana from store shelves.

Since Colorado legalized marijuana in January, the state is trying to figure out how to regulate edibles. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

In the months since Colorado began selling marijuana legally, so-called "edibles"—brownies, cookies, and other food products laced with THC—have emerged at the forefront of debates over how best to regulate the drug. Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had recommended limiting legal edibles to liquids and lozenges. The recommendation was just one of several issued by the department, who backtracked after marijuana industry advocates complained that a ban would violate Colorado's 2012 law legalizing the drug in all forms.

Brownies or cookies laced with pot contain much more THC than, say, a puff of a joint, making it harder to manage the dosage. Just ask Maureen Dowd: On a visit to Colorado earlier this year, the New York Times columnist accidentally indulged too much in a pot-laced candy bar, causing her to hallucinate for eight hours in her hotel room. Other overdoses have had more serious consequences. In March, a college student high on edible marijuana fell to his death from a balcony.

Small children, particularly those too young to distinguish between regular and marijuana-laced sweets, are thought to be at particular risk. A Denver hospital has said it treated nine children who had an adverse reaction to edibles, although it was unclear whether the children had obtained the products from a commercial dispensary.

Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at UCLA, has argued that edibles are a potentially promising development so long as products come are labeled with accurate dosage information. In addition, a prohibition on commercial pot brownies would do little to prevent people from making and distributing their own, thus enabling a black market that legalization was intended to eliminate.

Earlier this month, Colorado announced that consumers spent over $33 million on recreational marijuana in August, bringing the 2014 total to $180 million.