California Bill Would Require Warning Labels on Cannabis
California’s proposed Cannabis Right to Know Act would require companies to include health warning labels on regulated marijuana products.
California licensed cannabis companies would be required to put additional warnings on regulated marijuana products under a bill currently making its way through the state legislature. SB 1097, the Cannabis Right to Know Act, was passed by the California state Senate by a vote of 23-3 on May 25. On June 22, the measure was approved unanimously by the Assembly Business and Professions Committee before being referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
SB 1097 would require large warning messages similar to those found on cigarettes and other tobacco products to be included on packaging for all licensed cannabis products. The labels would include messages about the potential risks cannabis poses including impaired driving, effects on adolescent brain development, impacts on pregnancy and associations with mental health issues including schizophrenia. The bill also requires retailers to provide a brochure outlining the health risks of cannabis to new customers and to display the brochures for other customers at the point of service.
Some of the warning messages for marijuana products mandated by the Cannabis Right to Know Act include:
- “WARNING: Do not buy illegally sold cannabis as it is more likely to contain unsafe additives or harmful contaminants such as mold or pesticides.”
- “WARNING: Do not use if pregnant or breastfeeding. Exposure to cannabis during pregnancy may harm your baby’s health, including causing low birth weight.”
- “WARNING: Cannabis use may contribute to mental health problems, including psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Risk is greatest for frequent users and when using products with high THC levels.”
- “WARNING: Cannabis use may contribute to mental health problems, including increased thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts. Risk is greatest for frequent users.”
The rotating set of ten warning labels would be required to be printed in a black 12-point font against a bright yellow background and cover one-third of the package front. The labels are modeled after comprehensive regulations adopted in Canada, where cannabis was legalized in 2018.
Bill’s Supporters Warn of Health Risks
Supporters of SB 1097 including Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a psychiatry professor at Yale University School of Medicine and a member of the physicians advisory board for Connecticut’s medical marijuana program, say that cannabis can cause serious health problems for some people. He believes that warning labels could help reduce the harmful effects of cannabis like similar messages included on packaging for cigarettes. D’Souza attributes warning labels, education campaigns and marketing restrictions for a steep reduction in smoking by children and teenagers observed over the past decade.
The health risks posed by cannabis can be exacerbated by products with high levels of THC, according to proponents of the Cannabis Right to Know Act. The THC content of cannabis flower from some varietals can exceed 35%, while marijuana concentrates can boast THC levels of more than 99%.
“Today’s turbocharged products are turbocharging the harms associated with cannabis,” said Dr. Lynn Silver with the Public Health Institute, a nonprofit organization supporting SB 1097.
Industry Group Opposes Cannabis Right to Know Act
In a call to action posted online last month, the trade group California Cannabis Industry Association expressed opposition to SB 1097. Seeking the support of members and their customers, the CCIA wrote that the “bill would add duplicative labeling requirements to cannabis products that will do very little to protect public health or undercut the illicit market, but will instead unfairly penalize legal operators who already comply with stringent labeling and childproof packaging requirements.”
Noting that the bill would result in higher prices for regulated cannabis products, the industry group called on California-licensed cannabis companies and consumers to contact their state lawmakers and ask that they oppose the Cannabis Right to Know Act.
“This bill is really duplicative and puts unnecessary burdens on the legal cannabis industry, as we already have incredibly restrictive packaging and advertising requirements,” Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the CCIA, told NPR.
Robinson added that the state should focus its resources on combating the illicit cannabis industry instead of licensed companies, which are already struggling to comply with strict regulations. Noting that licensed cannabis dispensaries in California generated $1.3 billion in state tax revenue last year, she said that adding additional requirements increases their costs and makes it more difficult for them to compete with the illicit marijuana market.
“The only real option if they fail out of the legal system is to shutter their businesses altogether or to operate underground. And I don’t think the state of California, with the tax revenue, wants either of those to happen,” Robinson said. “The heart of the issue is that there’s a massive, unregulated market in the state.”
Snowden Steiber, a regulatory analyst at regulatory compliance software platform Simplifya, told Cannabis Now that SB 1097 would saddle California’s industry with redundant rules.
“The current regulations already require licensees to include clear and legible warnings on the following issues for each product: cannabis’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance, keep out of reach of children and animals, no one under 21 may consume, no pregnant people should consume cannabis, effects may be delayed for two hours and warnings on cannabis’s ability to impair driving and cause DUIs,” Steiber wrote in an email. “This is a fairly comprehensive list that covers many of the warnings that are pushed forward in the new rules.”
The Cannabis Right to Know Act is also opposed by activists including the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. If passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsome, SB 1097 would go into effect on January 1, 2025.