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Washington Bans Cannabis Edibles: Necessary or Nanny State?

Matt Weeks
cannabis, hemp, legalization, prevention, overprotection, regulation, USA, nanny state, federal laws, prohibition, safety, risk

Washington jumped the queue and went ahead and banned candy-like medibles ahead of any problem. Proactive or just overbearing?

The term “nanny state” is bandied about online as a garden variety insult, with about as much meaning and finesse as “libtard;” but beneath the veneer of internet jeremiads, is there a point? Is the U.S. actually a cannabis nanny state — and if so, what are the consequences?

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Just What is a Nanny State?

The term originated in the 1960s, in Britain, to describe what conservative politicians saw as a needlessly overprotective and intrusive set of laws. On this side of the pond, however, the term is applied a bit more broadly, carrying a strong whiff of freedom-stifling with notes of paternalistic policy. The nanny state may have your best interests at heart, but its micromanagement feels less like good-natured protection and more like a patronizing burden.

But that’s not to say the term is necessarily justifiable. Since governments existed, one of their primary purposes has been to protect their citizenry. Traditionally, a government without the means to defend its people would find itself relieved of those people in short order. But these days, state protection doesn’t need to include a well-heeled fighting force. Nation states like Costa Rica and Andorra exist without a standing army. Instead, they protect their citizens from unnecessary disease and property theft.

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So, while every state prizes protection, a nanny state focuses on unnecessary prevention — often safeguarding citizens from acts or behaviors that only a certain demographic (those in control) don’t like, for reasons that are short of logical.

What Happened in Washington?

Take, for example, Washington state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board. On Oct. 3, the board announced that it would ban cannabis-infused edibles that look like candy. The move stemmed from a belief that the industry was “appealing to children” by making cannabis gummy bears. It’s the same logic that torpedoed tobacco advertisements with cartoons, which came about back in “Just Say No” 80s, when Philip Morris allegedly used Joe Camel to hook kids on the “coolness” of smoking.

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Let’s concede that the state of Washington has an interest in protecting its children from medicines and materials that will do them harm. No one disputes that. It’s one of the reasons that drug makers use childproof packaging. And children do die every year from taking medicine that’s not meant for them. That problem is tragic and very real.

But, here’s the rub, only a nanny state would step in to crack down on an issue that doesn’t exist. This is not a case where Washington saw a problem and moved to correct it.  Not at all. There has NOT been an increase in children actually taking candy-looking edibles since cannabis was legalized, according to Washington Poison Control (although it does happen — just not at higher rates than before.)

So, Do You Live in a Nanny State, America?

Alcohol isn’t good for children, either. But we allow brightly colored liquors to be stored in parents’ fridges. Doesn’t Four Loko look like a soda? This beer with a cow on it scans as chocolate milk. Those appeal to children as well, but the Liquor and Cannabis Board only has a problem with cannabis.

Clearly, this is an example of the nanny at work: I don’t like that, so you can’t have it.

And, to be clear, it’s a good thing that there are laws around cannabis. It’s a psychoactive substance that should be regulated to ensure that medical patients can trust that their treatment is the best, safest, and most beneficial version of cannabis available. And recreational users deserve to know what’s in their cannabis — does it contain more THC or CBD, what are the side effects? And when there are side effects, it’s OK to make laws around those (for example, if you’re working with heavy machinery, don’t toke up on the clock.)

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But that’s normal, common sense government stuff. The nanny state happens when the country expects more from its citizens than it willingly gives. For example, military service.

The government can compel citizens to fight and die in its service. All men 18 years of age in the United States are required to register for the Selective Service, what we call “the draft.” Requiring citizens to make the ultimate sacrifice is a tall order. One that should be handled with dignity and respect. But, while the U.S. has no problem conscripting the lives of young men to die in service of an ill-thought-out war, it treats those men like children, telling them they’re not mature enough to buy a beer or smoke cannabis.

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A nanny looks after children who are too young to make decisions on their own. The trust is only one way. The children trust the nanny, and she makes all decisions for them while they’re in her care. Does the U.S. follow that standard? The answer is clear.

Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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