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Food Companies Seek Crackdown On Cannabis Edible Copycats

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

May 3, 2022

A group of major food products manufacturers is calling on Congress to crack down on cannabis edibles that mimic popular brands, saying the infused snacks pose a danger to children.

In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Friday, the industry group the Consumer Brands Association and companies representing popular products including Cheetos, Trix and Oreos asked lawmakers to take action on the copycat marijuana edibles, which are usually manufactured and sold by unregulated cannabis companies.

“While cannabis (and incidental amounts of THC) may be legal in some states, the use of these famous marks — clearly without approval of the brand owners — on food products has created serious health and safety risks for consumers, particularly children, who cannot tell the difference between these brands’ true products and copycat THC products that leverage the brand’s fame for profit,” the group wrote in the letter to Congress. 

The manufacturers are seeking an amendment to the SHOP SAFE Act included in the USICA-COMPETES legislation, a broad bill designed primarily to foster American competitiveness with China. The group says that the SHOP SAFE Act, which targets counterfeit products, should be amended to include famous marks, which are characteristics of brands that are widely recognized by consumers. 

The brands wrote in the letter that the legislation’s current “language does not prohibit sale of the above packaging and products due to the technical definition of counterfeit marks. This should be amended to include ‘famous’ marks, a term already defined in U.S. code, to extend this protection and deter the sale of these copycat THC items which clearly ‘implicate health and safety’ of children.”

Copy-Cat Cannabis Edibles Appeal to Kids

The brands note that the “FDA reported 2,362 THC exposure cases from January 1, 2021, through February 28, 2022. Of those, 41 percent of exposures involved pediatric patients and 82 percent of unintentional exposures affected children.” The manufacturers say that packages that copy famous brands are often especially attractive to children.

Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at New York University, conducted a recent study of copycat edibles that was published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Her research revealed that about eight percent of cannabis edibles were marketed in packaging that mimicked popular brands, which often do not clearly indicate that the product is infused with cannabis.

“Policies to prevent cannabis packaging from appealing to children haven’t stopped copycat products from entering the market — nor have food brands taking legal action against cannabis companies for copyright infringement,” Ompad, the lead author of a report on the research, said in a statement.

The researcher noted that while the packaging may not be intended for children, the marijuana edibles can end up in the hands of unsuspecting consumers.

“I don’t imagine a lot of people are trying to dose kids,” said Ompad. “But kids have gotten a hold of people’s products. Even if parents have carefully put them away, kids are crafty little creatures.”

Katie Denis, the vice president for communications at the Consumer Brands Association, told the Washington Post that empty packaging for cannabis edibles that copies popular brands is available online. Unscrupulous cannabis companies buy the packaging, fill it with marijuana edibles and offer the finished products for sale on the unregulated market.

“In drug busts, they are finding these empty mylar bags,” Denis said. “It’s not always clear you could take legal action against the manufacturer of those empty bags.”

Under the legislative change supported by the food manufacturers, products that copy famous marks of brands would be illegal to sell online if they “implicate health and safety.”

“This amendment would be giving us the tools we need to go after the problem at the root source,” Denis said. “If it’s not this, it should be something else, because the problem is growing.”

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

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