Somehow, the legalization of marijuana compounds the annual ‘marijuana-tainted Halloween candy’ myth.
On the Tuesday leading up to Halloween weekend, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a disturbing consumer alert targeting parents in her state directly.
New York legalized cannabis for adult use in March, but there is still no regulated commercial market. As James warned, at least part of that void is filled with cannabis products “deceptively designed to look like standard snacks and candy.”
It is an old phenomenon. Whether categorized as “remix culture” or “logo-jacking” or whatever, underground markets of all kinds – fashion, food, music – are full of derivative references to mainstream brands. And cannabis cultivation has demonstrated a particular love for sneaky nods to a familiar brand (or at least until lawyers get involved).
But James wasn’t worried about copyright infringement. In her statement, citing a nationwide increase in visits to poison control centers from children who have accidentally (or not) eaten their parents’ cannabis edibles – with 2,622 nationwide calls recorded in the first half of 2021 – she warned of a threat “extremely dangerous to human health” including the herb that could kill you.
And James was not alone. Similar warnings have been issued by attorneys general in at least five other states.
Despite the spread of legalization of marijuana and the acceptance of cannabis as an acceptable commodity in polite culture, the annual ritual of fear around Halloween appears to be escalating. And elected officials like attorneys general do.
“In light of the increase in accidental overdoses in children nationwide, it is more vital than ever that we do all we can to curb this crisis and prevent further harm and even worse death,” said she said in her press release.
According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, science has yet to record a single death attributable solely to an overdose of cannabis. That would seem to be enough on its own to classify James’ warning to consumers as a bizarre overreaction, if not an irresponsible fear message (“Dangerous”? “Crisis”? “Death”?) With highly questionable timing.
As columnist Jacob Sullum has reported for years, every year in September and October authorities issue warnings regarding cannabis-tainted Halloween candy. And every year, not a single verified report of contaminated Halloween candy can be found.
Yet one way or another, every year the ritual repeats itself. And the legalization of marijuana hasn’t stopped this nonsense. Instead, it just gets worse and worse.
On the same day, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost issued a similar warning. Unlike James, Yost specifically invoked the Halloween fallacy.
“The levels of THC in these fakes could have real and devastating consequences for children,” Yost said. “Parents need to be extra careful, especially around Halloween, so that these imitating products don’t end up in treat bags.”
But since Yost’s office had to admit later to reporters who bothered to ask them a basic question, that never happened.
On Thursday, James and Yost’s counterpart in California, Attorney General Rob Bonta, issued a similar warning, dutifully echoed and taken very seriously by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Although Bonta was hesitant to suggest that cannabis products could kill you, he said that cannabis products using a traditional brand are not all regulated, contain THC levels well above legal limits. state and “therefore present a risk to public health and safety”.
Similar reports have come from other attorneys general in the United States. Connecticut. Illinois. Oklahoma. Not all of the cases specifically mentioned Halloween, although Yost and Illinois AG Kwame Raoul both did. (Those who didn’t need to know that timing would ensure they would be interpreted as such.)
In each case, the warnings of the attorneys general were met with a torrent of skepticism and mockery from the public as well as the media – or, in the latter case, at least when the media did not repeat their warnings verbatim.
Because, in any case, there’s no credible evidence that cannabis-tainted Halloween candy is a thing. But in 2021, with warnings from elected attorneys general instead of anti-drug activists or law enforcement for whom low-intensity drug seizures were bread and butter, the annual cannabis and Halloween hoopla has reached a new nadir.
“Every year it gets worse,” observed Justin Strekal, political director of the National Marijuana Law Reform Organization (NORML).
“It’s almost like the government needs click bait too,” added another cannabis reformer and former government regulator, speaking in the background.
It’s unclear why this string of U.S. attorneys general – many of whom are in states where adult cannabis is legal – all issued similar warnings last week, and whether the warnings were coordinated in some way or of another.
James’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to his office via an online form on Sunday.
But what is clear is that warnings like this do little other than perpetuate an old and busted myth, and seem to generate little more than public derision.
And at a time when confidence in government institutions is at an all-time low, according to polls, the annual Halloween masquerade of marijuana madness needlessly worsens this very frightening development.