A coalition of marijuana reform organizations are calling on regulators across the world to adopt a universal symbol for marijuana products in the interest of promoting safety in the evolving cannabis market and making it easier to facilitate interstate commerce if states choose to enact that policy.
While there may be a patchwork of marijuana laws from state-to-state in the U.S., as well as internationally, the groups said in a letter to regulators that was shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment and distributed on Wednesday that there should at least be uniformity in labeling so that people know what products contain cannabis no matter where they’re shopping.
The International Intoxicating Cannabinoid Product Symbol (IICPS)—a yellow triangle with an image of a cannabis leaf and black border—has already been adopted by Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota and Vermont, while other states like Alaska are also considering it.
Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), which played a leading role in developing the symbol and is spearheading the campaign for its universal adoption, said in a press release on Wednesday that its goal is “communicating a simple public health message,” which is “caution with cannabis.”
David Nathan, founder and president of DFCR, recently criticized New York regulators in an op-ed for Marijuana Moment after the state moved forward with a more complex, individualized label for cannabis products despite being encouraged to follow the lead of other states and adopt the universal symbol.
With more states taking steps to authorize interstate cannabis commerce, the symbol could also help simplify that process, as the various laws that have been enacted so far generally require marijuana products that are sold across state lines to follow certain regulatory standards—including packaging requirements—of the receiving state.
“It’s kind of a no brainer that if we want to be able to sell cannabis across state lines that there has to be consistency in the labeling—at least on a regional level, and preferably at a national level,” Nathan told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Monday. “Interstate commerce isn’t just about adjacent states, it’s also about, hopefully, opening the industry to the entire country. That’s why a national standard is so important, even in the absence of federal legalization.”
The universal caution symbol, which was also developed in partnership with the standards organization ASTM International, intentionally omits letters, words or numbers to avoid language barriers, which would be especially important if it is used internationally. There would be space under the label on marijuana products where different jurisdictions could include additional text-based information that fits their needs.
David Vaillencourt, vice chair of the ASTM International Committee D37, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that enacting standards in the cannabis market is squarely in the interest of “public health and consumer safety.”
“To make it easy for consumers to understand what is in the product is critical—and a universal symbol and a standardized label is the bare minimum we need,” he said. “We take for granted that things generally work in the world. And when they don’t work, it’s because there’s a lack of a standard.”
The universal symbol that regulators are being asked to adopt was thoroughly vetted through ASTM’s consensus process, with global stakeholders agreeing on the fundamental features that are meant to send a message that is widely recognizable and intuitively understood.
Vaillencourt also noted that ASTM has long worked with the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM), which recently adopted national standards for cannabis packaging, labeling and storage that are being incorporated into a federal handbook. It could theoretically advocate for the inclusion of the symbol in that guidance as well.
The new letter from the marijuana reform groups says that “a truly universal cannabis product symbol is a simple and highly visible indicator of whether cannabis regulators are employing best practices to protect public health and safety.”
Given its simplicity, there would likely be no need to revise the label in the event of policy changes or emerging scientific considerations, supporters say. It was also designed so that it could be downloaded for free and printed small and at a low resolution while still being clearly identifiable.
“We endorse the IICPS to promote public health and safety by differentiating products containing intoxicating cannabis from other products,” the letter concludes. “It serves disadvantaged communities by ensuring correct identification by people of any age, culture, literacy level, or education by following the international convention of using graphical elements rather than alphanumeric characters in the design.”
Adopting the symbol “will demonstrate regulators’ commitment to public health and safety, standardized labeling, and existing consensus standards, with the prescience and flexibility to anticipate future changes in the nascent regulated cannabis industry,” the groups say.
In addition to DFCR, signatories on the letter include Americans for Safe Access (ASA), American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH), Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation (CFCR), Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC), Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), NORML, Parabola Center for Law and Policy, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and more.
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