Kids are weak link for marijuana initiative

Commentary by R.E. Graswich

Children have emerged as a major headache for venture capitalist Sean Parker, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other promoters of Prop. 64, the adult-use cannabis initiative.

The California November ballot measure would prohibit persons under 21 from buying recreational marijuana. The initiative restricts retail locations from setting up shop too close to schools and other places where kids congregate.

But prohibitive language hasn't been enough to stop critics from rallying around young people as a key reason why Prop. 64 should be rejected by voters.

Foes of the initiative say recreational cannabis would too easily find its way to people under 21  -- either by its overwhelming physical presence or the psychological endorsement reflected in a culture that broadly approves of marijuana.

"I don't know if I am behind the times in comparison to other folks, but I still have my concerns," State Senate president Kevin De León told reporters in Sacramento. The senate leader said candy-colored cannabis products were among his worries as they might appeal to children.

The well-funded consultants working to pass Prop. 64 insist they have written child-proof safeguards into the proposed law. But skeptics don't have to look very far to find examples of youthful marketing in other supposedly adult products, notably tobacco and alcohol.

In fact, the global spirits and tobacco industries are the worst enemies Prop. 64 could imagine -- their legacy advertising strategies include decades of trying sneak Joe Camel's nose under the tent of the adolescent market.

Newsom and other Prop. 64 sponsors insist the new initiative is a major improvement over previous efforts to expand California's successful 1996 medical marijuana initiative. They claim the language is tighter and the time is right.

While the time may be right (and that's debatable, considering that any adult who wants cannabis in California can already legally obtain it with a medical recommendation) the language isn't particularly tight, especially when it comes to advertising and manufacturing.

The language discourages obvious stunts such as running cannabis commercials during children's TV programs, but "adult" cartoon characters and colorful manufactured cannabis goodies would be fair game.

And the recreational cannabis industry would be free to build anticipation among teen taste buds with tricks long established by booze companies that sweeten their vodka and add fruit to beer.

Significantly, the kid question has given politicians such as De León and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein a perfect excuse to back away from Prop. 64, citing concerns about making the product too available to young people.