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Opinions: Behind the myth of cannabis-tainted Halloween candy

By Sue Vorenberg
Cannabis Daily Record

Halloween is one of the best holidays for the fun-loving among us each year – but for cannabis enthusiasts, it also means the return of the tired and meaningless scare story of kids getting laced edibles as trick or treats.

There are some obvious flaws in this story, including that:

(A graphic from the CannaLaw blog)

(A graphic from the CannaLaw blog)

  • There has never been a reported case of a kid getting cannabis-laced candy as a Halloween treat (or poisoned candy, for that matter)
  • Practically speaking, cannabis edibles are too expensive to hand out (most cost $10 per dose or more)
  • And of course there’s the tired and utterly false assumption that there are crazed marijuana fans out there trying to spread the evils of drug addiction to the masses (we don’t see stories like this about alcohol-laced candies going to trick or treaters, do we?).

So where does this phenomenon come from?

Part of it is fear-mongering and a lack of understanding about cannabis from the authorities and the news media.

There’s been so much misinformation spread throughout the misguided War on Drugs that I can understand how it could be hard for cops or other officials to make the transition from thinking of cannabis as a Schedule 1 dangerous drug to understanding that it’s more akin to (or less harmful than) alcohol.

Many have been fooled by that old prohibitionist propaganda model of crazed potheads wreaking havoc – and they feel they have to warn the public to protect them, like in the video below.

Denver police last year warned of tainted candy:

There’s nothing wrong with protecting the public. In fact, that’s what we pay the police for. But if that protection is based on bad, outdated information, it ends up doing more harm than good.

The solution? We as the cannabis community need to send well-sourced, scientific and easy to understand information to police stations and public safety groups to help them understand which threats are based in fact and which are fictional.


But there’s another aspect to all this that has nothing to do with any actual threat: It’s called the news cycle.

During my 20-plus year career as a journalist, one of my biggest pet peeves was the sensationalizing of various things as a means to sell more papers or to get more people to watch your broadcast.

The news cycle approaching any holiday is chaotic at best. Editors (who are often short staffed during holidays) want to fill space, and they look for sensational stories that will frighten the public or build on already existing fears – because the basic fact is that fear sells news.

So the decision to demonize cannabis on Halloween often works like this:

A public protection agency issues a warning about the potential for marijuana-laced candy to get into the hands of children (following the old propaganda model). News groups get the warning and decide that it looks like a story that will get a lot of web hits and clicks, and possibly even go viral.

From there, an editor (and, very generally of course, editors and owners of corporate news groups tend to be older and more conservative than their staffs) will assign the piece to a reporter (who, in the age of declining pay and media jobs, are often young 20-somethings just out of journalism school) – and will tell the reporter to write a story based on the warning.

Often times, the young reporters are so rushed and overworked (because news agencies are rapidly shrinking) that they simply call the agency that issued the warning and take everything that agency says as fact. They then fill out the story with a few man-on-the-street comments from people who either think the threat is valid or not. Sometimes, they call actual cannabis businesses to balance the story. But sometimes they’re just too overworked to bother.

I know this first hand because I’ve done it – not with cannabis stories but with other somewhat sensational assignments over the years. In the end, the editor gets what the editor wants – or the reporter gets fired (although better editors will listen to their reporters concerns and work with them to make the story more accurate).

So, how do we as the cannabis community fight that? When you see these stories, contact the editor or ombudsman – and provide them with accurate and well-sourced information. Write letters to the paper discussing the misinformation. Don’t yell, don’t belittle, just politely correct them and show them that their information is wrong (you can start with this link to Snopes showing that there have been no reported cases of halloween candy poisoning).

Another way to fight it? Don’t take the click-bait. If you see a sensational headline warning of cannabis-laced trick or treats, don’t read it and don’t click on it. Media organizations use click-throughs to sell advertising. If they get more clicks, they sell more ads, and the cycle continues to repeat.

If they don’t get those clicks, they won’t feel so enthusiastic about spreading the wrong information.


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