Oregon doesn’t want people to end up like Maureen Dowd.
In 2014 the prim and prolix New York Times columnist, staying in a Denver hotel and tickled by the prospect of legal cannabis, “nibbled off the end” of an infused candy bar. It sent her spinning:
I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.
Oregon politicians think that’s a bad look for cannabis. So state health officials are tinkering with cutting edible THC limits in half. Proposed rules would curb single servings of THC to 5 milligrams — yes, half the currently allowed limit in Washington and Colorado. The limits wouldn’t apply to medical products.
Under the proposal, whole chocolate bars could contain no more than ten servings, or 50 milligrams of THC. Again, that’s half of what’s allowed in other states. Drinks, ice cream, and other products that aren’t easily separated into single servings would be limited to 20 milligrams per package.
Edibles aren’t yet available to recreational buyers in Oregon, but the state hopes to adopt rules by summer. The Oregon Health Authority, tasked with overseeing serving sizes, packaging, and labeling in the state, still hasn’t decided which limit to go with.
“I don’t know, truly, whether we’ll end up at 10 milligrams or 5 milligrams,” Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Oregon’s state health officer and state epidemiologist, told Leafly. “I don’t know.”
The goal is to give consumers what they want while still addressing common concerns, Hedberg said. Plenty of edibles in other states — chocolate bars, jelly beans, Sour Patch Kid knockoffs — no doubt look familiar and appeal to kids. Officials want to minimize both risks to children and newcomer horror stories like Dowd’s. “We do focus on particular concerns about the edible market because we’ve heard so many stories about it,” Hedberg said.
Of course, it’s not clear whether potency limits would actually fix problems. A rookie might still ignore instructions, and a toddler who downs an entire bag of gummies, half-strength or not, would still be in for an uncomfortable night. Will cutting potency in half mean fewer instances of youth use or overconsumption? “Very good question,” acknowledged Hedberg, “and I don’t know the answer.”
“Even though cannabis has been around for millennia, there’s a lot in terms of modern science which we’ve not been allowed to do because it’s Schedule I at the federal level,” she continued. “We don’t know the answer. What we see is what some of the problems are, and we’re faced with: How do we try to address what those problems are while avoiding reefer madness?”
Advocates for the cannabis industry call the rules well intentioned but ineffective. Bakers, chocolatiers, and ice cream makers aren’t as likely to sell as much product, they argue, because customers won’t be as interested in a watered-down buzz. “I mean, a lot of this is really just proper parenting,” John Bayes, owner of Green Bodhi, told the Oregonian.
Today, even in Colorado, where 10-milligram limits are in place, the state encourages beginners to be cautious. Informational cards at dispensaries read: “Start low. Go slow.” Friends and budtenders are quick to warn beginners to eat or drink a small portion and then wait — and keep waiting — until they’re sure it’s kicked in.
A cannabis overdose, while uncomfortable, won’t kill you. It’s a drug, yes, but its extremes are less extreme than overdoses of alcohol. If you’ve had too much, there are a number of ways to help ease what you’re going through.
One lesson, maybe, is that it’s more important to have information than limits. Dowd was by her own admission a “novice” consumer. First she nibbled “and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more.”
The health authority had a public hearing on serving sizes earlier this month, and they’re hoping to finalize rules by spring. If all else fails, Hedberg at the Oregon Health Authority has at least one fallback option in mind to keep children far from cannabis.
“Put in in caviar!” she quipped. “No kid in their right mind is going to eat caviar. Put it in spinach!”