Colorado hotels train employees about marijuana edibles after accidental overdoses
The state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division set new rules for edibles last November following a rash of accidental overdoses. A glimpse at the tighter regulations:
- The maximum THC content of any marijuana edible, recreational or medical, is 100 milligrams.
- The serving size for a first-time user is 5 to 10 milligrams.
- Edibles must be easily broken into single servings.
- All edibles, including liquids like Keef Cola, must come in child-resistant containers.
- Packaging and containers must clearly list the THC content.
- Edibles from second-party manufacturers must come pre-packaged. Dispensaries can no longer separate and package edibles individually at the counter.
It’s a tradition as old as timeshares: When guests pack up to head home after a ski vacation, they often bid adieu by leaving unused food, wine and beer in their room for the housekeeping staff.
Then legal marijuana entered the picture.
In the past year, employees from a handful of Summit County lodges have visited the hospital after accidentally eating marijuana edibles, according to the Breckenridge Police Department. The department does not yet track individual cases, but marijuana resource officer Caitlin Kontak says “at least several” employees or their family members have sought medical help for edibles. When paired with concerns over youth abuse and prevention, they have fast become one of the cannabis industry’s most controversial and polarizing products.
For hotel management and law enforcement, the edibles issue comes down to familiarity. Infused products can look and taste like nearly anything — brownies, chocolate bars, hard candy, soda — and according to Kontak, those innocent similarities are often enough to catch employees off-guard. The state tightened packaging requirements in November, but the changes only affected potency, dosage and childproof packaging, not the name or appearance of a product.
“If you’ve seen some of the labels on these candy bars, the writing that says it contains THC is microscopic and they’re all very similarly packaged,” Kontak says. “The main problem with hotels is that people know they can’t take marijuana home. That’s one of the few rules everyone is aware of, so instead of taking it back, they leave it as a tip, just as they would with any kind of food in a hotel.”
The edibles-as-tips cases tend to follow a pattern: A hotel employee finds the leftover edibles in an empty guest room and eats them like any other sweets. But recreational products contain up to 100 milligrams of THC, which is roughly the potency of 64 joints made with pre-legalization marijuana, Kontak says. Without knowing the dosage — first-time users shouldn’t eat more than 5 to 10 milligrams at a time — the employee can take upwards of 10 times the recommended amount of THC.
On occasion, employees unknowingly bring edibles home to share with their families, as was the case last June in Basalt when a 7-year-old girl ate infused chocolate her mother brought back from an Aspen hotel.
Since taking over as Breckenridge PD’s marijuana officer, Kontak has worked closely with lodges, schools and other groups to parse through the facts and myths about edibles. She’s visited almost every lodge and hotel in Breckenridge, along with the Wyndham Vacation Resorts team and a number of local HOAs. At the informal meetings, she supplied fact sheets, images of various edibles and a Powerpoint presentation with details on their effects.
“They don’t want to outlaw any edibles because it’s hard to enforce, but they want to be cautionary,” Kontak says. “They want people to know that the effects can be very different, that people may not know what to expect when they eat an edible.”
From there, Kontak says most lodges use her materials to build in-house training programs.
At Beaver Run Resort, assistant general manager Chris Pappas has revamped hotel policy to clarify marijuana rules — and concerns — for both employees and guests. The staff is still allowed to take leftover food, but the hotel’s marijuana policy is now part of the registration process. If a guest violates the policy, which includes no smoking marijuana anywhere on the property, they are fined $500. The policy does not mention edibles.
“For us, the biggest issue is the smoke,” says Pappas, who says his staff handles one case “every few weeks” involving marijuana use. “That’s what permeates down the hallway and can affect other people. Quite frankly, this isn’t a revenue-generating thing with the fines. I can tell you that whatever we’ve gained in fines, we’ve had to give way more back for unhappy guests.”
The hotel edibles cases are the latest revolving around infused products, which Summit County dispensary owners say are increasingly popular with the out-of-state guests who stay at local lodges.
Yet neighboring resort communities have seen few — if any — incidents. In Pitkin County, home to Aspen, the June scare is the only recorded case of accidental edible ingestion, while officials with Vail Police Department and Eagle County Sheriff’s Office say there have been no reported cases in Vail, EagleVail or Edwards.
Thanks to legalization, Kontak believes marijuana users are more likely to report medical issues. She says about half of people who call 911 admit to eating edibles, while the other half tend to share that information with medical personnel only.
“People don’t really tell cops a lot, but they’ll tell medics everything,” Kontak says. To get a better grasp on edibles and accidental consumption, she is working closely with Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District to keep track of every case involving typical side effects: shortness of breath, anxiety, hallucinations, elevated heart rate.
For parents, the possibility that their child will accidentally eat an edible is a major concern. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, Kontak distributed an edibles fact sheet to schools and recreation centers. It complemented education efforts by other Summit County groups, including an edibles labeling campaign supported by the Healthy Futures Initiative.
“If an adult eats an infused product, it’s much easier to explain to them what’s happening,” Kontak says. “If a child eats a product, the only thing they know is that it feels like they’re dying.”
At Beaver Run Resort, education efforts begin in the staff room. Pappas has posted PSA-style information about edibles, and marijuana is a regular topic during daily meetings. He tweaked Kontak’s information to give his staff the basics, such as where to find THC content on labels, and his employees were grateful.
“They appreciate the fact we took the time to make them aware of these issues and let them know our position,” Pappas says. “There has been no negative feedback from our employees.”
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