Washington Professionals Petition Against Cannabis Warning Label

Washington Professionals Petition Against Cannabis Warning Label

More than 120 industry members sign petition to fight usage of proposed “Red Hand” label.

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August 12, 2016
CBT Staff

The Washington Cannabis Farmers Council sent a letter and petition with the names of 123 cannabis industry professionals to the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) Aug. 9 to dispute usage of a “Red Hand” warning symbol on some cannabis products.

The new warning symbol was unveiled by the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) July 13 at an LCB meeting, and was said to be developed to deter children who might come into contact with cannabis products. 

According to the letter written by the Cannabis Farmers Council (CFC) that accompanies the petition opposing the new label, the new label is overkill, with more than ample warnings already on all cannabis packaging labels, and it would serve only to add to people's fears and increase calls to the WAPC.

The letter (full text below) states: "Instead of accurate information regarding the probable non-life-threatening effects of cannabis, the [WAPC web] site is an exercise in fear mongering. Instead of 'stay calm, no one ever dies, and sleep it off,' its essential message is 'You have an emergency! Call us now!'"

"If a warning label is thought to be so effective, it is fair to ask why such a symbol has not been ... promoted for labeling on many other, much more toxic, everyday substances."

Previously, the CFC had fought against usage of a “Mr. Yuk” sticker on cannabis products “for a lot of the same reasons as [the Red Hand],” as well as a few other provisions in draft rules, says Gene Flynn, managing member of Canna Herb Farms, LLC, and CFC board member.

Part of the reason the Mr. Yuk label was removed in the state rules was that the state did not have rights to the image. With the difficulty of public use and logistics, the WAPC worked with a marketing agency to develop its own label.

However, the new warning "red hand" label is being opposed by cannabis professionals and businesses for a variety of reasons.

First, per the petition, many safeguards and warnings already exist on cannabis-product packaging, including the stipulation that no cannabis packaging can be designed to be appealing to children. Also:

• Individual servings of cannabis-infused edibles packaged together “must be packaged individually in childproof packaging”

• All cannabis and cannabis products must include accompanying material attached to the package or given separately to the consumer at the time of sale containing various warnings including: "For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of reach of children."

• The label on all solid and liquid edibles must prominently display the words, “This product contains marijuana.”

The petition also notes that it is physically impossible to die from marijuana consumption, so while keeping marijuana away from children is the goal for both industry constituents and parents, adding yet another warning is overkill, especially considering the level of potential harm marijuana can cause compared to other medicines and even foods, neither of which contain comparable warnings and warning labels.

The petition states:

"Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality. ...  By contrast aspirin, a commonly used, over-the-counter medicine, causes hundreds of deaths each year. ...

While no responsible person in the cannabis community would encourage or even allow children to consume or be secondarily exposed to cannabis, the facts are indisputable that the risks associated with accidental or ill-advised consumption, or even over-consumption, are relatively minor and temporary, and are not life-threatening in any material way.

If a warning label is thought to be so effective, it is fair to ask why such a symbol has not been, and is not being, promoted for labeling on many other, much more toxic, everyday substances. The minimal risks of accidental cannabis consumption, even by children, simply cannot be compared to the potential lethal effects of the likes of alcohol, aspirin, and, we learn, even raw potatoes." 

(As the petition explains, "eating 10 raw potatoes can result in a toxic response.")

According to the LCB's small business economic statement, there would be no cost to industry professionals to use the image and incorporate it into existing labels. However, if the business required stickers, the business would be responsible for printing costs. (So the image is free, but applying it to labels is not.)

For businesses with labels that don't have room to accommodate the new warning sticker, new labels must be designed and printed (and existing labels discarded) at the cost of the cannabis business owners.

According to the economic statement, costs could vary, depending on whether the licensee uses a professional service to include the symbol on the package. Products in smaller packages could require reconceptualization, since the image must be on the primary panel, and cannot be smaller than 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch.

The statement also outlines a delayed effective date to phase in the new requirements, and work through current stock that does not meet the regulations, with around a 90-day implementation.

The WAPC estimates the cost of a roll of 1,000 stickers to be about $12-$13 per roll, with an estimated shipping cost of about $5, according to the impact statement.

The LCB is currently accepting public comment on the proposed rules until Nov. 2, according to Mikhail Carpenter, spokesperson for the LCB. Comments can be emailed to rules@lcb.wa.gov, faxed to 360-664-9689 or mailed to the Rules Coordinator at the LCB. Written comments are preferred, says Carpenter. There will be a public hearing on the draft language Nov. 2 at 10 a.m., at the LCB Board Room.

The full petition opposing the new warning label can be found and signed online here. Here is the full text of the letter sent to the LCB:

To the Distinguished  Members of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board:

The matter at hand is a proposal to require a "Red Hand" warning symbol on at least some cannabis products. This proposal has been conceived, designed, and promoted by the Washington Poison Center (WPC). This is the same NGO that earlier this year unsuccessfully promoted the idea of the mandatory use of Mr Yuk on cannabis products. Although that proposal found its way into a draft version of amendments to the WAC, it was ultimately withdrawn in the face of opposition by the Cannabis Farmers Council, among others, and thought to be a dead letter.

All the reasons Mr Yuk was rejected earlier in this year apply to the Red Hand, and additional reasons to do so in this case have revealed themselves as well.

At a minimum, we call upon the LCB to postpone issuance of a CR-102 to reconsider this initiative for the reasons stated in the petition and below.

In roughly a week, the attached petition was endorsed by over 120 licensed Producers, Processors, Retailers and other members of the cannabis community. More signatures are still being collected but we have attached the current signatures to this email. For ready reference, the online petition can be found here:
http://www.petitions24.com/opposition_to_additional_mandatorynot_for_kidswarning_symbol

While there is evident opposition to this issue among licensees, rule-making is not a popularity contest. Rules issued by an administrative agency must be rationally related to the intended policy goal and seek to avoid imposing unnecessary burdens on the subject industry. Fundamentally, administrative rules should be based on things like demonstrated facts, efficacy, and financial considerations, rather than slapdash feel-good measures that are bound to have no practical impact on the perceived problem, regardless of even the best intentions.

The petition makes five (5) points:

1. The Red Hand won't work; there is nothing that shows it would.

2. Adequate warnings and safeguards already exist.

3. Cannabis poses no serious (and certainly no fatal) health hazard due to accidental or even extreme use. Other truly toxic household substances are not subject to the Red Hand treatment.

4. Many of the reported phone calls to the WPC are almost certainly spurious or trifling, and should be discounted.

5. At a minimum, a Small Business Economic Impact Statement must be prepared and considered prior to promulgation.

Additionally, the following considerations should be taken into account.
The WPC is a private group whose primary mission, as its name suggests, is to minimize the risks of poisoning, especially among children. Cannabis is decidedly not toxic, and simply cannot be consumed in a fatal overdose. Ever.

Based on the contents of its website, the WPC does not speak in an informed, much less authoritative, manner in addressing risks associated with cannabis. To the contrary, the WPC's anti-cannabis bias is immediately revealed by a cursory view of its website pages dealing with cannabis.

Instead of accurate information regarding the probable non-life-threatening effects of cannabis, the site is an exercise in fear mongering. Instead of "stay calm, no one ever dies, and sleep it off", its essential message is "You have an emergency! Call us now!". The WPC's entire approach is alarmist, and the proposed label would be symbolic "proof" of the validity of their message.

That message, as it stands, is false and misleading, and should not be enshrined in the WAC in the form of a costly but wholly ineffectual mandatory Red Hand label.

Also, it cannot be overstated that the WPC offers no empirical justification for its proposal (other than a reported, but undocumented and unverified, claim of an increase in phone calls). A Red Hand label will save no lives (since no life is actually at risk), but will impose burdens on the industry. There is no rational justification whatsoever for such a measure.

There are at least circumstantial reasons to believe that the WPC may have ulterior motives in pushing this initiative, e.g., potential revenue streams from the licensing of its trademarked Red Hand, and self-aggrandizement by "going national" with this scheme. The LCB should be especially wary of proposals from outside parties that fairly drip with self-interest.

In that context, one must wonder why the WPC's fervent push for Red Hand labeling does not extend to actually poisonous substances more commonly found in households, e.g., brightly colored, candy-like dishwasher packets, among others. Its fervor in this regard must be seen as suspect and discriminatory without regard to real public safety concerns.

The fact that the WPC has been trumpeting its proposal with a tone of smug assuredness of its proposal is especially disturbing. We trust that the LCB will truly take into account public comment and all relevant considerations prior to proceeding with this controversial measure.

No one is more concerned about child safety than licensees of the cannabis industry, and we are willing to work with all groups, including the WPC, to that end. We cannot, however, support initiatives like the Red Hand that are both futile and misleading.

In light of the reasoned opposition to this initiative endorsed by a significant number of licensees, and the reasons set out in the petition and this letter, the Cannabis Farmers Council respectfully requests the LCB to reject this ill-advised proposal outright. At a minimum, we request that issuance of a CR-102 be postponed to allow for greater pubic input and a deliberate review of all the ramifications of this proposal.

Respectfully submitted,

THE CANNABIS FARMERS COUNCIL

Susy Wilson - Board Member
Aaron Inman - Board Member
Eugene Flynn - Board Member
Danielle Rosellison - Board Member
Steve Walser - Board Member
Mark Childs - Board Member
John Bohannon - Board Member
Crystal Oliver - Board Member
Brian Stroh - Board Member
Dennis Fredrick - Board Member
Adam Smith - Board Member
Raymond Kinney - Board Member
David Burns - Board Member

Editor's note: This story was updated Aug. 17.