RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares plans to crack down on cannabis products that look like common snacks and candy after lawmakers gave his office more enforcement power.
Meanwhile, Miyares is joining a bipartisan group of attorneys general asking Congress to pass legislation allowing well-known food brands to hold bad actors accountable for marketing cannabis products to children using their likeness without consent.
It comes after three one-year-old toddlers were hospitalized after eating THC-infused crackers that looked like regular goldfish at a Stafford, Virginia daycare.
Data suggests this was not an isolated incident.
Between January 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022, the National Poison Control Centers received 10,448 single substance exposure cases involving only edible products with THC. Nearly 80% of total cases involved children under the age of 19, 65% involved unintentional exposures and 79% required health care facility evaluation, according to the FDA.
“We are alarmed by how quickly this situation is intensifying. As more states legalize marijuana and the market grows, the deceptive use of famous brands, logos, characters and trademarks on THC edibles is also growing, amplifying a consumer health and safety issue, especially for kids” said Stacy Papadopoulos with the Consumer Brand Association.
In 2020, Virginia legalized limited possession and home cultivation of recreational marijuana. Sales were put on hold and were once again delayed this year due to inaction by the General Assembly. Lawmakers also failed to pass a permanent solution for the mislabeling of hemp-derived products that are already being sold due to a lack of regulation.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Miyares showed a box of 27 products that he said were purchased over the counter at stores in 10 different Virginia localities. The items closely resembled popular brands like Doritos, Cheetos, Apple Jacks and Lucky Charms, among many others.
“Candidly what we’ve seen I think in the last year in Virginia it has been the wild, wild west,” Miyares said.
The General Assembly recently passed what was branded as a temporary fix to this problem in the new state budget that takes effect July 1.
It bans the manufacturing and sale of THC products in certain shapes that may appeal to children, as well as products in counterfeit packaging that could be confused with popular food brands. It sets new age restrictions for the purchase of THC products, which will soon be limited to those 21 and older. It also sets new requirements for child-proof packaging, product testing and labeling.
Additionally, it gives the Virginia Attorney General’s Office new authority to enforce state law in cases like this.
“When I see bad actors targeting this garbage to our kids, I’m going to go after them,” Miyares said.
Miyares said Virginians can report issues to the consumer protection section of his office and violators will be punished with a fine.
Miyares called this a good first step but said he expects to request more tools, including a potential criminal penalty and more full-time investigators, from the General Assembly in the future to step up enforcement.
“We’re going to dedicate some serious resources on this task and get some wins before the end of the year,” Miyares said.