Source: Forbes, Jacob Sullium

Two weeks ago, a New York City councilman proposed a ban on flavored electronic cigarettes. This week Colorado news outlets reported that the state health department had recommended a ban on almost all forms of edible marijuana products. As is often the case when politicians or bureaucrats demand new limits on liberty, both proposals were aimed at protecting children.

Although flavored e-cigarettes and marijuana edibles are intended for adults, appeal to adults, and can be legally sold only to adults, the prohibitionists argue that they cannot be tolerated because they also appeal to minors. The same rationale has been offered for bans on flavored tobacco products and sweet malt beverages. This argument, although couched in the language of moderate and sensible regulation, should be a non-starter in a free society, because it reduces adults to the level of children.

The consequences of such reasoning can be dramatic. In the recommendation publicized this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) urged regulators to “prohibit the production of retail edible marijuana products other than a simple lozenge/hard candy or tinctures.” Such a ban would eliminate a wide range of marijuana-infused foods and beverages that Colorado dispensaries have been selling to patients for years and to recreational consumers since January. Even marijuana cookies and brownies, which had a following among cannabis consumers long before you could openly buy them over the counter, would disappear from dispensary shelves. Although consumers could still bake their own, they would lose the convenience, reliability, and quality control offered by commercial producers, not to mention the label information, dose control, and child-resistant packaging that the CDPHE presumably considers important.

The CDPHE quickly backtracked from its proposal, and with good reason: It probably would violate the state constitution, which now includes Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization initiative that voters approved in 2012. Amendment 64 clearly envisions a market in which various marijuana-infused foods and beverages are available to adult consumers. Furthermore, reprohibiting this segment of the marijuana market would invite black-market dealers to satisfy the demand for products that have proven very popular, making the state’s minimum purchase age as well as its packaging and labeling requirements impossible to enforce.

Despite the CDPHE’s retreat, its rationale for banning marijuana edibles is worth considering because it illustrates the mindset of people who demand that adult choices be restricted for the sake of the children. “To allow the production of retail marijuana edibles that are naturally attractive to children is counter to the Amendment 64 requirement to prevent the marketing of marijuana products to children,” the department argues. Thus it redefines the rule against targeting children as a duty to avoid products they might like.

The CDPHE claims “the intent of the Amendment and subsequent laws and rules was to decriminalize the use of retail marijuana, not to encourage market expansion within the marijuana edibles industry that subsequently create[s] potential consumer confusion or mixed messages to children.” Yet the amendment did not merely decriminalize recreational use; it also decriminalized the production and sale of marijuana products by state-licensed businesses serving that market. The “market expansion within the marijuana edibles industry,” as distasteful as it may be to the CDPHE, was a natural result of letting buyers and sellers of those products engage in peaceful, mutually beneficial transactions without fear of arrest.

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