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EDITORIAL: Big Marijuana may learn a hard lesson in Colorado, U.S.

By: The Gazette editorial board
June 6, 2016 Updated: June 7, 2016 at 12:00 pm
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Big marijuana is not some teenager with pot plants in a basement. It is a new sector of corporate America and may learn a hard lesson about responsible labeling and liability.

At issue is the lawsuit of three young children who say the maker and distributer of a marijuana product owe them for the death of their mom.

Consumers expect labels to give them reasonable insight into products. Most labeling practices and requirements make common sense. Users need to know if an epoxy is flammable. Drinkers need to know if a liquor product contains 6 percent alcohol or 50. Diabetics need to know the amount of carbohydrates in a serving of trail mix.

The expectation of product information has become a priority so important, some voluntary warnings make us laugh. A Superman costume's label tells buyers the suit "does not enable flight." A Dremel tool at Home Depot warns not to use it for dental work. Apple's iPod Shuffle warns buyers "do not eat." A New Holland yard tractor tells operators to "avoid death."

Given the extents to which businesses err on the side of caution, we expect corporations selling a recreational drug — at the very least — to warn of extreme potency and effects that are not self evident to novices.

Consider the tragic plight of Kristine and Richard Kirk and children. In April of 2014, shortly after Colorado's recreational pot sales began, police say Richard Kirk bought Karma Kandy Orange Ginger from a pot store. The candy was the size and shape of a Tootsie Role. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit say the label contained insufficient information about potency and potential ramifications.

If the packaging was as bad as the suit contends, Kirk probably had no idea the small candy contained 100 milligrams of the drug THC. That is 10 times Colorado state government's 10-milligram recommended serving, all in one bite-sized treat.

Like others who have consumed too much pot-laced food, Richard Kirk appeared to hallucinate. He reportedly began rambling about the end of the world, begging for someone to kill him. As his wife pleaded for help during a 911 call, the man retrieved a pistol from a safe and police say he shot his wife dead.

Children of the 44-year-old victim are suing Denver-based Gaia's Garden LLC, the manufacture of the candy, and Denver-based distributor Nutritional Elements, Inc.

Neither business picked up a gun and killed Kristine Kirk. The complaint involves dashed expectations of responsible conduct by corporations that profit in a regulated marketplace. Based on standards and practices of other businesses, it seems reasonable the maker and distributor would inform buyers about the product's potency and warn of what could happen if consumed. Beer cans do that.

No typical consumer would expect 10 servings of a drug in one tiny piece of candy. It seems rational, in fact, that one piece would contain one serving. Today, that's the law in Colorado.

It may be impossible to prove whether THC caused Richard Kirk to kill his wife. Here's what's not in dispute, based on the lawsuit: Gaia's Garden and Nutritional Elements did not provide adequate labeling to Richard Kirk. Plaintiffs believe that led him to consume too much THC on the night he became a murder suspect.

As explained in Forbes, product liability law involves two basic principles: 1. Companies must take care not to put customers in 'unforeseen' danger, assuming that those customers use the product in a 'reasonable' manner; and 2. Companies have to provide sufficient warning of 'foreseeable' danger.

Each year, all over the country, corporations lose millions to product liability suits involving inadequate labeling. A jury may conclude 10 times the dose of a psychoactive in one small glob of sugar, without detailed packaging, poses "foreseeable" danger.

When marijuana went mainstream and commercial, it entered a community of corporations held responsible for what happens to customers.

Three kids lost their mom. Their dad is locked up, possibly for life if convicted.

The children and their lawyers think better business practices could have improved their odds. If a court agrees, Big Marijuana will learn the rigors of life above ground.

The gazette editorial board

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