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California is considering new regulations for a recreational marijuana industry that now includes more than 1,500 retailers. The idea is to put health warnings on cannabis products like the labels on cigarettes. And some will address the mental health risks from smoking pot. April Dembosky of member station KQED reports.
APRIL DEMBOSKY, BYLINE: For a lot of grandparents, your first grandchild holds a special spot in your heart. For Elizabeth (ph) Kirkaldie, that is Kory.
ELIZABETH KIRKALDIE: He was the sweetest little kid in the world. And I had a very close relationship with him.
DEMBOSKY: Kory was top of his class in high school and a talented jazz bassist. By the time he graduated, he was a serious pot smoker, too. And for Kory, pot didn't just make him paranoid; it also made him psychotic. He started hearing voices.
KIRKALDIE: They were going to kill him. And there were people coming to eat his brain. I mean, weird, weird stuff.
DEMBOSKY: After high school, Kory came to live with his grandmother for a couple of years here at her home in Napa, Calif. She thought maybe she could help. Now she says that was naive.
KIRKALDIE: I woke up one morning and no Kory anywhere. Well, it turns out he'd been running down Villa Lane here totally naked.
DEMBOSKY: Kory was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His grandmother blames the pot.
KIRKALDIE: The drug use activated the psychosis is what I really think.
DEMBOSKY: It's what many psychiatrists think, too. Studies show people who use cannabis are four times more likely to develop schizophrenia. For people who smoke every day or use high potency products, the risk is six times higher. Yale psychiatrist Deepak Cyril D'Souza says there are things states can do to reduce the harms.
DEEPAK CYRIL D'SOUZA: Such as have limits on the amount of THC in products that are sold, have clear labelling about that so that people who buy it know what they're getting into.
DEMBOSKY: That's exactly what California wants to do. A proposed law would require pot businesses to include warnings about mental health risks in their advertising and on product labels. They'd have to be set against a bright yellow background, use black font and take up a third of the front of the package. Opponents say this is excessive and expensive. Lindsay Robinson runs the California Cannabis Industry Association, which represents legal pot businesses.
LINDSAY ROBINSON: The heart of the issue is that there's a massive, unregulated market in the state.
DEMBOSKY: Legal dispensaries turned over $1.3 billion in state tax revenue last year. On top of that, Robinson says, they're struggling to keep up with existing regulations. And adding more requirements just makes it more likely that they'll go out of business.
ROBINSON: The only real option if they fail out of the legal system is to shutter their businesses altogether or to operate underground.
DEMBOSKY: Some people, even parents like Elizabeth Kirkaldie, are skeptical the labels will work. Her grandson, Kory, is stable now, living with his dad. But she's not sure a yellow warning would have stopped him when he was a teen.
KIRKALDIE: They're just not going to pay attention. But I do, I mean - if it helps even one person, great.
DEMBOSKY: Doctors, like Cyril D'Souza, are optimistic. Regulation worked for cigarettes. Smoking among kids has plummeted in the last decade. He credits warning labels, education campaigns and marketing restrictions. And he says applying the same health strategies to cannabis is long overdue.
For NPR News, I'm April Dembosky in San Francisco.
(SOUNDBITE OF CASIIO AND SLEEPERMANE'S "PASSING BY")
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