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How to Keep Legalized Marijuana Out of Kids' Hands

The Short of It

Now that marijuana is legal, or soon to be in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and D.C.—with more states to follow—experts fear kids are at an increased risk of getting their hands on the mind-altering substance.

The Lowdown

In a commentary published this week in the journal "Pediatrics," three Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers—Brendan Saloner, PhD, assistant professor; Colleen Barry, PhD, MPP, associate professor; and Beth McGinty, PhD, MS, assistant professor; all in the Department of Health Policy and Management—point out that the legalization of marijuana leaves underage youth at risk, and they proposed strategies for reducing their ability to acquire it.

"The early days of marijuana legalization present a unique window of opportunity to create a regulatory environment that minimizes youth access. States should heed lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol regulations, which have proven very difficult to change despite research linking weak monitoring and low prices to underage use. Our number one priority has to be to keep our children safe," says Saloner.

Saloner, Barry and McGinty offer four ways we can prevent kids from obtaining the drug:

  1. Use tax policy to keep prices high: "Research has shown that young people are particularly price sensitive and tend to reduce cigarette use at higher rates than adults after price increases,"McGinty explains.
  2. Regulate retail availability of marijuana: This can be accomplished through stronger enforcement of existing laws and penalties. It's also important to separate retail locations from schools and parks. Retailers that sell the substance should not also sell other products.
  3. Regulate the appearance of foods containing the drug to avoid accidental ingestion by kids: "Regulators need to be especially aware of how appealing marijuana-laced candies and cookies look to children and adolescents," Barry says. Manufacturers must be especially mindful of how they package the substance; childproofing and clear labeling are essential.
  4. Restrict marketing of these products so as not to influence children: For instance, no cartoons!

The Upshot

If the byproduct of legalizing marijuana use is that it normalizes the behavior and increases the chances of minors using it, too, it seems now is the time to act before parents face yet another insurmountable challenge in keeping our kids safe.

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