It’s that time of year again, the temperature is cooling, the leaves are changing, and “stoners” are allegedly on a mission to get the kids high.

It seems to happen, without fail, that every October a news story or two makes the rounds advising parents around the country to be vigilant and check their children’s Halloween baskets for THC-laced candy. This year’s warning comes to us from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where authorities issued a search warrant and, as a result, found Nerds Rope candies that had been infused with 400 mg of THC per rope. 

One local organization, Smart Colorado, was spooked enough to purchase this billboard to warn us about these tricks disguised as treats. 

Is there any issue with parents prioritizing their children’s safety? No. However, after years of hearing this narrative it may be time to pull back the curtain and expose the facts. These fears have no basis in reality, and the warnings issued regarding this potential problem are built on very little, or non-existent, evidence.

Let’s take a look at the most recent case, and Johnstown Police Department’s initial alert: 

**ATTENTION** The Johnstown Police would like to draw extra attention to the Nerds Rope edibles containing 400mg of THC…

Posted by Johnstown Police Department on Thursday, October 10, 2019

The department’s statement, “Drug laced edibles are package [sic] like regular candy and may be hard to distinguish from the real candy,” is disproven by their own photos of the confiscated product. The packaging on the counterfeit THC infused Nerds Ropes are clearly marked, and even advises the consumer “Keep out of reach of children and animals.” Could it be more clear that these edibles were never intended to make it into the Halloween baskets of unsuspecting children? 

The assertion that edibles look like any other piece of candy a child could receive this Halloween is simply untrue, especially in states where edible THC products are regulated. This is where the true concern emerges. As Capt. Chad Miller of the Johnstown Police Department told Rolling Stone, “In Pennsylvania, marijuana is still illegal. We don’t have edibles. There is no education. We just want to make sure everyone is aware this is out there.” This statement indicates that legalization could be a critical part of the solution in combating this type of incident from ever occurring. As we can see from states that have legalized cannabis, a well regulated marijuana market grants the opportunity for more widespread education about cannabis products, as well as explicitly labeled THC edibles.  

In states that have legalized cannabis, labeling on edible THC products is strictly regulated. In 2017, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) tightened edible restrictions, in an effort to make packaging less appealing to children. These restrictions included banning the word “candy” or “candies” on edible packaging, and mandating that every edible, and its packaging, is marked with the state’s universal THC symbol (pictured below). The MED also banned edibles shaped like humans, animals, fruits, or cartoons. As cannabis legalization expands across the country, other states are implementing similar restrictions with the shared goal of minimizing the appeal of edible THC products. Michigan’s rules regarding edibles explicitly state, “No edible [marijuana] product can be in a shape, color, package, or labeled in a manner that it would appeal to minors aged 17 years or younger. No edible [marijuana] product can be associated with or have cartoons, caricatures, toys, colors, designs, shapes, labels, or package that would appeal to minors.” Washington, Nevada, Maine, and several other states that have legalized medical or recreational cannabis have established similar rules.

Source: Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division

But a second, more significant, fact to consider regarding this urban legend is that there isn’t a single recorded instance of children being given THC infused edibles in their Halloween basket. There have been instances of minors either accidentally, or purposefully, consuming THC infused edibles, but none of these cases cited that the minors received the edible on Halloween. The mythos surrounding tainted Halloween candy dates back to the 1950s. Sociologist and criminal justice professor Joel Best has been studying the phenomenon of alleged “Halloween sadism” for nearly 40 years. Best states, “In my own research, I have been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.” 

Perhaps the best advice that can be given to parents this Halloween season is the recommendation that is given every year, check children’s candy thoroughly, and “When in doubt, throw it out.” But if parents remain concerned about this THC-laced edible boogeyman, there are additional safety precautions that can be taken to ensure that no marijuana came home with your trick-or-treaters. Since regulated THC edibles are clearly marked, an inspection of the outer packaging of all collected candy should take place before children consume. Children should not accept or consume any treat that isn’t commercially wrapped, which will help rule out potential black market edibles. Finally, a simple smell test will alert anyone familiar with the distinctive scent of cannabis to any remaining threat that may be lurking at the bottom of the candy basket. 

When it comes to the issue of handing out THC edibles to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters, in addition to a lack of evidence that this has ever happened, it’s time to accept the argument that cannabis consumers have already made – nobody wants to give pricey edibles to children for free. It may be comforting to know that in states that have legalized marijuana, the youth, increasingly, doesn’t want weed at all. So this Halloween, let’s retire this tired urban legend, and focus on something truly chilling, like the continued media coverage of this undeniably fake news story.