Halloween Candy Fear: Are Pot Gummies the New Razor Apple?

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Marijuana-infused gummy-bear sour candies. Rick Wilking/Reuters

The legalization of marijuana in some states has raised the fear that children will be slipped weed-laced candy this Halloween. Local officials from New Jersey to Florida have warned parents to check their children’s trick-or-treat bags lest they end up eating edibles. (Recreational marijuana is is illegal in both states, while medical marijuana is legal.) That fear, according to Vox, is almost certainly misplaced.

German Lopez took a look at newspaper stories, spoke to poison centers and police departments in Oregon and Washington, and interviewed a researcher who focuses on halloween candy to see if there's any validity to the fear that pot-infused candy will be purposefully given to trick-or-treaters. The answer was almost definitively no. (It’s worth noting that other local news outlets are doing some myth-busting of their own.)

Lopez notes that there’s no exhaustive research on this, but the evidence he presents makes a pretty persuasive argument that the fear does not match the reality.

Joel Best, a sociologist from the University of Delaware who has studied Halloween candy poisoning for decades and been quoted in just about every story on the topic in recent years, told Lopez, “I’ve done research, and I can’t find any evidence that any child has been killed or seriously hurt by any candy picked up in the course of trick-or-treating. My view is this is overblown. You can’t prove a negative, but it seems unlikely.”

So where do these fears come from?

GettyImages-805234972 Edible cannabis products for sale in Nevada. Ethan Miller / Getty

The concern that children will be somehow poisoned by marijuana candy is a new form of an old fear: that children will be at all harmed by their Halloween candy hauls.

The origin of that fear in the United States has a few different starting points. In 1983, popular advice columnist Pauline Phillips, as “Dear Abby,” warned her readers with certainty that “somebody’s child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade.” Advice columnist Ann Landers, Dear Abby’s sister, later followed suit, writing about razor blades and poison placed in candy apples. According to Vice, a PTA Magazine reporter wrote a story in 1974 about the “alleged phenomenon” of people planting razors and needles in Halloween treats.

As Lopez notes, the closest thing to a documented candy poisoning was a man in the 1970s giving his child an arsenic-laced Pixy Stix as part of an insurance scam. He attempted to distribute several other sticks around his neighborhood to cover his tracks, and was stopped.  

But in the same way people fear plane crashes over car accidents, a terrifying, if extremely unlikely, event can draw more attention than a statistically likely one. No one wants their kid to be that anomaly.

That said, concern about children accidentally eating marijuana candy on any day of the year seems more reasonable. Best himself has said as much about such "mix-ups." For that reason, Washington state banned the sale of weed lollipops, gummy candies and jelly beans, all of which could appeal to children. Adults have some trouble with cannabis treats, too: A New York Times columnist detailed her unpleasant experience eating more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-infused chocolate bar.

As Best told Vox, this unfounded Halloween candy fear is a pretty poor argument against marijuana legalization.

If you do happen to be consuming festive weed treats this weekend, it may be worth taking steps to keep them out of reach of children.

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