The labels and packaging for marijuana-related products, “shall not be made to be attractive to children,” the Missouri constitution states.
That’s why state regulators are proposing requiring “plain or uniform labeling,” similar to those of cigarettes or medicines, said Amy Moore, director of Missouri’s cannabis regulation under the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
During a hearing Monday with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Moore said studies show that plain packaging “increases attention to and perceptions of harm and reducing social appeal” among adolescents.
Yet, the rule is getting staunch opposition from the Missouri Cannabis Trade Association, which represents cannabis professionals, that say it would be “unduly burdensome” and not reasonable to require businesses to create new labels.
“Down the beer aisle, these craft beers deliver these cool and interesting designs,” said the association’s attorney Eric Walter. “Colors are attractive to everyone, not just children.”
The label change isn’t a surprise to companies, Moore said, because DHSS has already told them there would be changes to labeling regulations once the constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana passed in November.
“Think about the cereal aisle versus tobacco packaging or over-the-counter medicines,” Moore said. “I’m skeptical of the association’s skepticism…about whether the concept of color for packaging being attractive to children is really at issue. We know it’s true. I can tell you my five-year-old’s favorite color right now is rainbow.”
The label change is among several changes — including video surveillance and increased accountability during events organized by cannabis companies — in DHSS’ 126-page proposed rules that are currently under review.
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Last week, the trade association sent a searing 46-page letter to committee members, saying some of the proposed rules would cause financial hardship on businesses and were “recklessly conceived.”
During Monday’s hearing, lawmakers had Moore respond point by point to the association’s concerns mentioned in the letter, which led to four hours of questions from both Democrats and Republicans, who were largely defending the association’s position.
Walter was allowed a rebuttal to every argument Moore made.
“What we’re representing today, we’ve got 14 provisions… that we view as very problematic and very costly on the industry,” Walter said in his opening statement. “More expensive products means a percentage of those people don’t buy them from the regulated market. They go to the illicit market. Obviously, the goal would be to drive down our prices and have the people… buy them from the regulated market.”
Also in his opening statement, Walter applauded DHSS, saying “they’ve done a great job” in regulating the industry.
“This tone today is very different from the tone of the letter that was sent to you all that we received on Friday,” Moore said. “While we have not always agreed in the past, and certainly have different interests, they have consistently described us as unusually accessible, responsive, competent and collaborative.”
Moore said the association’s letter was “misleading.”
DHSS has made many concessions, she said, and tried to make as little financial impact to businesses as possible while still meeting constitutional requirements for health and public safety.
Among those requirements is video surveillance, she said.
Under the proposed rules, companies are required to have electronic video monitoring with high-definition cameras throughout the building that can be accessed remotely. Moore said video is specifically required under the constitution.
After hearing the businesses’ concerns, the agency decreased the number of cameras required, she said. But that meant they could no longer allow motion-sensored video systems.
Walter argued motion-sensored systems are more cost effective, but Moore said they are not as effective, especially if there were going to be fewer cameras and they are trying to ensure products aren’t getting out into the illicit market.
“The question is whether it’s unduly burdensome,” Moore said. “And we’re weighing public safety, product safety, health and safety risks of these products.”
In a separate issue, Moore gave an example of the owners of a cannabis company being in the midst of a heated dispute.
One owner locks out the others and removes equipment that the state has inspected and approved.
That’s why DHSS included a sentence in its new regulations saying, “the department may restrict or suspend the operations of the facility license until the dispute is resolved, or it may deny a pending application.”
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, asked: “I’m struggling to see why you should be able to suspend simply because you’re concerned about a dispute possibly impacting operations.”
Moore responded that almost everything in the operation has a health and safety impact.
“If we find that ownership dispute is impairing that in some way that is not covered by a specific rule elsewhere,” she said, “we need to be able to take action without jumping to suspension or revocation of a license.”
Moore also said that she’s seen other state’s regulations and they are much more stringent than Missouri’s.
“A lot of what we’re discussing today is the balance between having overly detailed or burdensome regulations,” she said, “balancing that with the legitimate state interest of ensuring safety and security of facilities.”
Sen. Nick Schroer, an O’Fallon Republican and chair of the committee, encouraged DHSS and the association to come to a compromise this week on the rules.
“Our authority lapses on Friday,” he said, “so we’re going to try to find a room Thursday, come back, discuss and vote if necessary.”