One year ago around this time, Colorado was awash with warnings about a new mortal danger facing children: pot-laced Halloween candy.
“Marijuana candy. Trick or treat?” a billboard on a major Denver thoroughfare warned. The ad by Smart Colorado, an advocacy organization dedicated to protecting youth from marijuana, asked, “Can you spot the pot?” above pictures of candies like peach rings and Swedish fish that are also commonly sold as marijuana-infused edibles.
The Denver police department warned on its YouTube page : “With Halloween fast approaching, Colorado citizens are in a unique position in the country – watching our kids’ candy for marijuana edibles. Learn how some marijuana edibles can be literally identical to their name-brand counterparts, and get a reminder about sweets safety for all your little trick or treaters this year.”
Had the Denver police and Smart Colorado uncovered a new unintended consequence of legalization: maniacs surreptitiously slipping pot-laced candies into trick-or-treat baskets? A frightening 21st-century “razorblades in apples” phenomenon?
According to the Denver police and the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, there were zero cases of people giving marijuana candies to children last Halloween. The same report came out of Washington state, the only other state that also had legalized recreational marijuana in October 2014. “I think there was some fear-mongering going on there,” Drew Fowler, a spokesman for the Seattle police department, told the AP .
(As with marijuana-infused edibles, the ongoing legend of people across America secretly poisoning Halloween candy and randomly giving it to kids is “all rumor and fabulation”, according to Samira Kawash, who researched the subject extensively for her book Candy.)
This year, the warnings have subsided, and even Smart Colorado has changed its tune.
“To be really honest, I doubt people are putting marijuana candy in little kids’ baskets,” Smart Colorado co-founder Gina Carbone, whose group erected the billboard last year, said. “I don’t think that’s really a concern.” The group did not repeat its billboard warning this year, opting instead for a different billboard warning of high THC levels in Colorado’s marijuana and marijuana-concentrates.
Nor has the Denver police department decided to post warnings about marijuana edibles this Halloween. Unlike last year, there are no YouTube videos cautioning parents to check their kids’ candy this time, and the only marijuana-related warning on their Twitter page is an “Adult safety tip” to find a designated driver “if you are planning to consume adult goods/beverages”.
Instead advocates have turned from suspicion of Halloween pot-candy schemes to a related concern that does have some evidence behind it: accidental ingestion of marijuana edibles at any time of year.
In 2014, the first year of recreational legalization in Colorado, the number of children who were accidentally exposed to marijuana – for instance, by eating a marijuana-infused edible thinking it was a regular piece of candy – significantly increased from the previous year. According to the AP , calls to poison control centers regarding children eight years old or under nearly doubled, to 45 in total, with a similar rise in Washington.
Though the overall number of incidents remains low – kids are far more likely to be poisoned by pharmaceutical drugs, detergent or caterpillars than marijuana – a number of high-profile stories involving toddlers and marijuana edibles have helped the issue stay in the news. Officials from the Colorado department of public health and environment even called for banning the sale of most pot-infused edibles to prevent accidental ingestion by children.
Instead of an outright ban, Colorado lawmakers stepped in last year and passed HB 1366 to mandate that marijuana edibles be clearly identifiable and distinguishable from regular candies and baked goods. Under the law, which was overwhelmingly supported by members of both political parties, the department of revenue must establish new regulations on edibles by 1 January 2016.
There has been much debate throughout 2015 about what sort of marking would suffice to clearly distinguish marijuana edibles.
“Just because it’s on the packaging, that’s not good enough,” Carbone argued. “Side by side, many of these items are candy and not distinguishable for kids.”
Carbone stressed that, with the proliferation of marijuana-laced candies, it’s important that kids (and their parents) know exactly where a piece of candy came from before eating it.
“I was in charge of my kids’ school dance recently. Usually there’s big candy bowls of sour patch kids and gummy bears,” Carbone said. “You can’t do that any more because you don’t want kids to be encouraged to eat unwrapped candy.”
Instead, Smart Colorado argues that there ought to be a distinguishing mark stamped directly on to all marijuana edibles. A stop sign with the letters “THC” was originally proposed , though regulators are now considering a diamond instead.
But Julie Berliner, founder and CEO of edible manufacturer Sweet Grass Kitchen and a member of the working group determining proper labelling, cautioned that warning labels were not a panacea. After all, she noted in an interview this month, “a stamp itself is not child resistant”.
Berliner also expressed concern about how the new regulations could affect businesses like hers that make marijuana cookies and brownies. “Products like mine and many others are impracticable to stamp or shape or color in a certain way,” she said, arguing also that individual wrapping and child-resistant packaging could bear significant costs.