Pot brownies can kill toddlers. It’s time for childproof cannabis packaging law

When paramedics arrived at the home of 11-month-old James, he was nearly in a coma.

The first responders quickly inserted a breathing tube and brought him to the hospital. The toddler, who had recently started walking, had been completely happy and healthy only hours before. His sobbing mother had no idea what could be wrong with her precious only son.

Our pediatric emergency room quickly jumped into action. Initial lab work was all normal, but James clearly was not well. He was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU), where eventually we discovered that James had found a cannabis brownie in his home that belonged to an adult family member.

As you might expect any toddler to do, he ate it. This nearly cost him his life.

To avoid risk to children like James, we must increase awareness of the dangers of cannabis ingestion in children and establish safety legislation to protect them.


Who could blame a kid for eating a brownie? But now in California, what looks like a brownie or candy may contains levels of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, that are dangerous to young children. The health hazards of marijuana ingestion—both edible and inhaled THC—are much more severe than they are in adults. We childproof other things that are dangerous to our children. Why is this different?

Studies in other states have shown that legalization resulted in a 90 percent increase in marijuana-related hospital visits among children. Edible or non-childproof products are responsible for over 60 percent of these exposures.

Frighteningly, like James, almost one in five of these hospitalizations required admission to a pediatric intensive care unit. Children are particularly vulnerable and prone to overdose due to their small size. Marijuana is known to have multiple short-term and long-term adverse health effects, especially during fragile and critical brain development.

California is at the forefront of many safety legislation initiatives. Cannabis should be no different. At the Capitol, legislators need to ensure that packaging regulations are at least as strict on marijuana products as they are on gummy vitamins.

We need rules to prevent packaging that appeals to children, and each product must come in its own child-proof packaging. But regulation isn’t enough. At home, parents and caregivers should store marijuana like they would any other medicine. That means out of reach of children and away from the kitchen.

Marijuana ingestion in kids is dangerous. Parents and policymakers need to be educated about these risks. James, or any child, should not be responsible for determining if a chocolate bar or gummy candy contains cannabis.

As the remainder of the country looks to California for sound legislation regarding safe marijuana consumption, parents, physicians and community members must come together to ensure that lawmakers are aware of the risks when drafting policy.

In order to keep marijuana accessible to responsible adults in our state, we need to speak up to ensure that it stays out of the hands of our most vulnerable: our children.

Drs. Lena Rothstein and Lauren Gambill are pediatricians at UC Davis Health. They co-authored this op-ed with a consortium of physicians with an interest in public policy.