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I-Team: How To Regulate Marijuana Edibles

DENVER, CO (CBS) – Marijuana edibles make up nearly half of the one billion dollar legal pot industry in Colorado. They are also among the most controversial aspects of legalization.

At Ganja Gourmet in Denver, customers have a lot of choices. The glass counters are filled with gummy bears, chocolates and baked goods. The sales people are well versed in the products, recommending items to meet a customer's particular taste.

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The items are among the most popular products in all states that have legalized marijuana.

Four women we met outside a Native Roots dispensary downtown said they'd come from Austin, Texas to partake. They opened their brown paper bag to show us what they bought. "We got some sour candy watermelon. You just pop that in and you get a little high," said one of the young women.

Marijuana edibles
Marijuana edibles (WBZ-TV)

The tiny treats look harmless. At Colorado emergency rooms, however, they've been the one thing that has posed the most problems.

Of the roughly 2000 visits per week at the University of Colorado ER, marijuana related illness make up a pretty small portion, only a handful each week. Since legalization, the number is on the rise. Most of the ER visits are due to edibles.

Marijuana in food has delayed effects and is often more potent than smoked marijuana. That entices some users to eat too much before it kicks in.

Dr. Andrew Monte heads the Emergency Room at UC Hospital. He says the symptoms of too much pot are not life threatening, but they can exacerbate a pre-existing condition.

Marijuana edibles
Marijuana edibles (WBZ-TV)

"Fast heart rate and anxiety are the two most common symptoms we see with marijuana intoxication," Monte explained.

But there are more serious consequences for children. Edibles put a disproportionate number of toddlers in the hospital.

"Whereas an adult may only need a small portion of that brownie to get intoxicated, the child is not going to eat just a small portion of the brownie, they're going to eat the whole thing," Monte said. "What that can cause is coma."

The wide array of products has outpaced regulators. Critics pointing to potencies that far exceed the marijuana found on the black market.

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"What's been the biggest surprise is what we've legalized. The products and all the innovative ways to intake and the incredibly high potency," says Diane Carlson of SMART Colorado, a group of parents fighting to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids.

They successfully fought to increase labeling on edibles.

"It's a huge issue," Carlson says. "Kids have been offered them and didn't even know marijuana was included."

Starting in October, each gummy or cookie will have to be individually packaged and marked with the THC content. For instance, the dosage is one gummy bear, not all ten in a package.

Steve Horwitz, owner of the Ganja Gourmet says the new rules are a good idea. He supports better education and labeling rather than keeping edibles from adults over 21 who want them.

At his store, clerks make sure to ask about a buyer's marijuana tolerance and make recommendations on dosage.

"Edibles are great if you take the right amount. If you take too much it could be pleasant to the point of really not pleasant," Horwitz says.

Massachusetts' ballot question will also allow edibles. However, it doesn't cap potency or set regulations for packaging. If legalization passes, that will be up to a newly created state Marijuana Control Board.

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