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New York Rolls Out Child-Resistant Pot Packaging Rules — and Street Dealers Shrug

As state officials specify packaging down to the font size and graphics (no cartoons, no candy), those already in the business keep up the creativity while they can.

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Marijuana sellers package their products in witty versions of familiar snacks at Washington Square Park.

Hiram Alejandro Durán

Proposed packaging and sales restrictions from a state board preview the future of cannabis consumption in New York — drained of the eye-catching colors and candy concepts that street sellers from Washington Square to Washington Heights use to entice customers.

That’s because the New York’s Cannabis Control Board is considering rules for marketing pot products in the state’s coming legalized industry that would center on “child resistant packaging and labeling.”

Out would be bags of gummies and weed-infused snacks that riff off of Skittles, Starbucks and other candies. Neon colors, bubble fonts, cartoons and any mention of candy would be forbidden, and the packaging can feature no pictures or graphics besides the brand logo and mandated labeling. References to cereal, candy or soda would also be off limits.

In: The New York State logo, THC signage, and the 21-and-over symbol, as well as disclosures of a product’s levels of THC — the chemical in marijuana that makes one high — and health and safety warnings, all in a font no smaller than 6 points.

Child-proofing restrictions are common in states that have legalized weed, after a free-for-all in Colorado led to numerous incidents in which kids ingested pot-infused candies and other edibles.

For La Innddia, one of around a dozen marijuana dealers who set up shop around Washington Square Park’s fountain, the weed-tinged chips and candies in recognizable packages are meant to reel in customers — adults in particular. But once lured, she then directs them to her other products, which she said are more profitable. 

She’s seeking to go legal, saying it would make business more profitable than working in the saturated market of Washington Square Park. 

“There’s more competition with those who surround me than with the law,” she said in Spanish.

But keeping a low profile suits Jamaar Lyn just fine. On Monday he was staffing a food truck on 5th Avenue in Koreatown, discreetly retrofitted into a dispensary called Inhale. “If you know what this is, you know what this is,” he said. “You go to the gray truck.”

Cannabis seller Jamaar Lyn works in a mobile dispensary parked in Midtown Manhattan on Monday.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Street sales and their dazzling array of product pitches aren’t vanishing anytime soon. This weekend, Mayor Eric Adams said that law enforcement won’t be overbearing as legit new marijuana businesses emerge — and that he would look to direct illegal weed dealers toward the legal market. 

“There needs to be a system of not heavy-handedness, but going in and explaining to that store that, ‘Listen, you can’t do this,’ give them a warning,” the mayor said Friday during the Cannabis World Congress and Business event at the Javits Center.

‘A Little More Stringent’

The proposed rules will undergo a 60-day public comment period starting June 15. Comments can be submitted to regulations@ocm.ny.gov.

Industry experts and advocates say the rules broadly fall in line with the advertising standards in states like California, Washington and Colorado — all which don’t allow cartoons or other imagery that could appeal to kids.

“New York is being a little more stringent in a couple places than other states, but that’s kind of a matter of degrees rather than a completely different direction,” said Heather Trela, director of operations at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, in Albany.

Trela, whose research focuses on marijuana policy, said one instance in which New York would be stricter than other states is that advertisements must be limited to cases in which 90% of the target audience is over the age of 21. She noted most other states with legal recreational pot use are in the 70% range.

Attorney Lauren Rudick, founder of the cannabis law practice at Hiller PC, pointed to a couple of potential areas of concern for the industry she represents. The proposed minimum font size could limit producers’ creative space to differentiate themselves, she said. And the limit of one brand per package would effectively restrict manufacturers from referring to the farms where the marijuana is grown. 

Meanwhile, manufacturers would be required to feature three symbols on all packaging: one indicating the product contains THC; a second stating it is for people 21 and over; and a third showing the New York State logo. The term “organic” would not be allowed, but the rules would create a stringent threshold for those who wish to use the term “craft.”

Rudick said that the rules will impose some discipline on an often free-wheeling industry.

“I think the neon [ban], that’s going to be really interesting. That’s going to require some analysis of color spectrums,” she said. “There are some things that are going to spark really fun dialogues for lawyers and trademark lawyers. But what this does is it really forces small businesses to think hard about their branding strategies out of the gate.”

One marijuana dealer operating out of a truck called Dr. Green in Greenwich Village said he’s staying on top of the latest rules from the cannabis board as he seeks to legalize his business. He said straying away from the candy-like products was always a no brainer, and they always make sure to ID every customer. 

“We never like to sell that stuff because it brings the bad vibes,” he said, declining to provide his name.

Fertilizing Farms

The latest rules inch New Yorkers closer to legally purchasing weed, which could happen by late this year or early 2023. The state cannabis board has so far approved 162 licenses for New York farms to grow adult-use cannabis. 

Lawmakers had promised to give New Yorkers with prior marijuana-related criminal convictions a leg up at getting in on the industry, and the Office of Cannabis Management followed with an announcement that the first 100 legal cannabis dispensary licenses would go to people in that category.

But licensees also have to prove current or former ownership of a profitable legal business — with at least two years of financial statements — which many cannabis industry experts find to be prohibitive. 

Ryan Lepore, a board member of Empire State NORML, the state chapter of the cannabis advocacy group, said it’s vital for New York to allow people in the industry to get creative. 

“The beauty of this is that the state is encouraging public comment,” Lepore said. “You have to take advantage of the fact that you have that privilege.”

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