As Halloween approaches, attorneys general from multiple states across the U.S. are warning parents about illicit marijuana products that resemble popular candies and snacks like Cheetos, Nerds and Oreos, which could confuse kids and lead to accidental intoxication.
In an apparently coordinated effort using identical imagery of the products in question, several state attorneys general recently issued advisories about edibles that are misleadingly marketed. The officials aren’t necessarily suggesting that people are intentionally handing out the THC-infused candies to trick-or-treaters—a myth that cannabis advocates have long worked to debunk—but it does fit within a theme of messaging that seems to crop up every year around Halloween.
In New York, Attorney General Letitia James (D) cautioned consumers about illicit products resembling common brands, saying “these unregulated and deceptive cannabis products will only confuse and harm New Yorkers, which is why they have no place in our state.”
James didn’t specifically mention Halloween in the press release, but she stressed that it’s “essential that we limit their access to protect our communities and, more specifically, our children.”
These products are especially dangerous for our children.
We’ve seen an increase in accidental overdoses among children nationwide, and it’s vital that we do everything we can to protect our children.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) October 26, 2021
“In light of an increase in accidental overdoses among children nationwide, it is more vital than ever that we do everything we can to curb this crisis and prevent any further harm, or even worse, death,” James said. “My office is committed to preventing the sale of these products and protecting the wellbeing of all New Yorkers. I urge everyone to remain vigilant against these products and to report these harmful items to my office immediately.”
In neighboring Connecticut, Attorney General William Tong (D) told parents to stay vigilant this Halloween. At a press conference on Tuesday, he said illicit marijuana products could contain concentrations of THC that exceed what will be legally allowed and regulated when retailers open in the state.
While CT has legalized adult-use cannabis, many of these products fall outside the range of what will ever be safe or authorized for sale. If you see these look-alikes for sale, report them to my office and take every measure to keep these away from kids.https://t.co/rSOd7z7d2r pic.twitter.com/wKyVPDdE3K
— AG William Tong (@AGWilliamTong) October 26, 2021
“These look-alike cannabis products are unregulated, unsafe, and illegal,” he said. “Accidental cannabis overdoses by children are increasing nationwide, and these products will only make this worse. While Connecticut recently legalized adult-use cannabis, many of these products fall far outside the range of what will ever be safe or authorized for sale.”
“If you see these look-alike products for sale, please report them to my office and take every measure to keep these away from kids,” Tong said.
New York and Connecticut have legalized cannabis for adult use, but sales haven’t launched yet as regulators continue to develop rules for their respective markets.
In Illinois, where legal adult-use sales began last year, Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D) also issued a warning about knockoff cannabis products.
“Accidental cannabis overdoses by children are increasing nationwide, and these look-alike products will only exacerbate the danger by appealing to children and youth,” he said. “I urge all residents to be on the lookout for and avoid look-alike products, which are unregulated, unsafe and illegal. In particular, I urge parents and guardians to be aware of the dangers these products pose to children and young adults.”
Meanwhile in Ohio, which has legal medical cannabis, Attorney General Dave Yost (R) similarly sounded the alarm about marijuana-infused candies on Tuesday.
From the news release:
“According to the Department of Homeland Security, the most common overdoses among children nationwide involve ingestion of edible cannabis foods and the overdoses continue to rise. 1/3 https://t.co/ANhj4q3dhD
— Attorney General Dave Yost (@Yost4Ohio) October 26, 2021
He said that “levels of THC in these fakes could have some real and devastating consequences for children,” adding that “parents need to be extra cautious, especially around Halloween, that these copycat products don’t wind up in treat bags.”
AG Yost is warning Ohioans about illegal and dangerous cannabis edibles and hemp derivatives that are packaged to look like well-known brands of snack foods and candy.
Details: https://t.co/P8lRhwmATO pic.twitter.com/UrUyzuRdRr
— Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (@OhioAG) October 26, 2021
Responding to a reporter who pointed out that there are no known examples in the state of trick-or-treaters being inadvertently dosed with marijuana edibles on past Halloweens, Yost said, “If this is the year that this trend hits Ohio trick-or-treat—and we’d said nothing—the question from the media would be why we ignored a national trend.”
If this is the year that this trend hits Ohio trick-or-treat—and we’d said nothing—the question from the media would be why we ignored a national trend.
— Attorney General Dave Yost (@Yost4Ohio) October 26, 2021
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) also talked about the issue, saying in a press release sent earlier this month that “unregulated look-alike products are dangerous and marketed to kids and young adults and when consumed by a child can have 120 times the potency of the maximum legal adult serving.”
“If anyone sells these products to Arkansans I will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” she said. “If you see these look-alike products for sale, report them to my office immediately.”
AG Alert: As we get closer to Halloween, AG Rutledge warns parents of unregulated and illegal cannabis products sold in look-alike packaging. Learn More: https://t.co/n5bNF0ipNa pic.twitter.com/2jbCZBYgIK
— Leslie Rutledge (@AGRutledge) October 6, 2021
Advocates share the desire to keep cannabis out of the hands of children—and they’ve grown tired of explaining just how sensationalized Halloween narratives have become. In this case, however, the messaging from the attorneys general seems more targeted at illegal manufacturers. They don’t seem to imply that people are willfully distributing cannabis to minors.
“You are more likely to summon Beetlejuice by saying his name three times than you are to find marijuana edibles in your children’s Halloween candy,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment. “This myth reanimates itself year after year like a zombie from a Romero film, and also like those zombies, is a work of pure fiction. No one is trying to spend hundreds of dollars to give cannabis to children and officials should finally give up on trying to spook parents every October with baseless fearmongering.”
This is one of those marijuana myths that keeps coming back from the 💀 with a vengeance every time the 🎃 start popping up on your neighbors’ doorsteps. https://t.co/tNXt2zMS2T
— NORML (@NORML) October 22, 2021
To be sure, while there are illegal THC products that are designed to look like mainstream brands, the idea that adults are spending their money to intentionally trick children into consuming marijuana hasn’t been borne out, despite the annual headlines.
Meanwhile, industry stakeholders are focusing their attention on illicit cannabis manufacturers, advising consumers to avoid these products and condemning companies that are profiting off illegal sales of lookalike cannabis items.
Michael Bronstein, president of the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, said that the “illicit production of cannabis products outside of a regulated setting poses a threat to public health and safety and the marketing of these products to children in look-alike packaging requires swift and immediate action.”
“We commend attorneys general from around the country for raising awareness on this issue and reiterate to the general public that cannabis products containing THC and intended for adult-use consumption should only be purchased from state licensed businesses, where consumers can verify the source and origin of the active ingredients and confirm that the product has passed state required testing protocols,” he said.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.