On Halloween, Don’t Fear the Reefer. Spiked Candy is a Myth.

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Trick or THC-treat? Halloween is right around the corner, a time of year that invokes fear in parents and children alike. All across the United States, as kids slash their way through neighborhoods disguised as Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers collecting treats, parents sit at home in terror, afraid some menacing evildoers will dose their child’s trick-or-treat candy with something sinister.

In early October 2018, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services issued a warning that one of the scariest threats faced by our costumed youth is the possibility they may receive marijuana-infused edibles disguised as some of their favorite candy. It wouldn’t surprise me if some parents are more than a little concerned.

But with little to no evidence of our kids being “poisoned by marijuana-laced candy,” according to the Washington Post’s WonkBlog, should parents be concerned children could receive marijuana-infused edibles on All Hallow’s Eve?

The Fact-Infused Truth

The annual hysterics that accompanies the fear of mischievous people handing out edibles, or razor-blade-stuffed apples, to trick-or-treating children has been largely debunked.

In 1985, Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, examined “Halloween sadism” from newspaper headlines from 1958 to 1983  and found that the stories were greatly exaggerated to the point of being “urban legends.” In 2016, Best provided an update to Vice: “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.”

Samira Kawash researched the subject extensively for her 2013 book, “Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure,” and told the Guardian in 2015 the notion of Americans handing out THC-laced treats on Halloween was “all rumor and fabrication.” In the same Guardian report, Gina Carbone, co-founder of Smart Colorado, an anti-marijuana group, admitted: “To be really honest, I doubt people are putting marijuana candy in little kids’ baskets.”

That isn’t to say that accidents do happen when marijuana-edibles are involved. A 2018 report from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, found “985 unintentional pediatric exposures” in the U.S. between 2005 and 2011. But while small children accessing THC-laced treats may be an issue in some communities, police have yet to document a confirmed case of people randomly distributing harmful Halloween treats, according to an October 2017 report by Snopes, one of the first online fact-checking websites.

Halloween Propaganda: ‘Fear the Reefer!’

So, if “pot-laced” Halloween candy is an urban legend, why do you hear the same warning every year?

In New Jersey, Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers’ medical school, warned that “a young child cannot distinguish an edible marijuana product,” from regular food.  

In 2014, the Denver Police Department released a similar warning in anticipation of Halloween after Colorado rolled out adult-use marijuana sales in 2014.

Don’t worry, parents. While THC-infused candy does exist, and it can fall into a child’s hands if it’s not be properly stored out of their reach, the claims that they will be handed to young trick-or-treaters are unfounded.

For the most part, the stories we hear regurgitated in the press are little more than urban legends that reinforce anti-marijuana sentiments and stoke up fear each October, according to reporting from Newsweek and Vox.com. As a parent, it doesn’t hurt to keep a watchful eye, but it should be considered  a low-priority concern next to some of thee far more realistic hazards to worry about on Halloween.

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