By Phillip Smith
The two octogenarian senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are up to one of their favorite pastimes again this year. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have reintroduced a perennial bill that would increase penalties for drug dealers who sell products designed to entice children.
If the bill were to become law, anyone who knew or “had reasonable cause to believe” that a “modified controlled substance would be distributed to a minor” would be looking at a 10- to 20-year prison sentence.
But the bill, the “Protecting Kids from Candy-Flavored Drugs Act of 2017” (Senate Bill 739), is seemingly justified more by urban myths than facts and, critics say, both unnecessary and more likely to be used against real-life sellers of marijuana edibles than mythical strawberry-flavored meth dealers.
“There are many instances of of drug dealers altering flavor and packaging of cocaine or methamphetamines to appeal to children,” Feinstein tweeted as the bill rolled out late last month.
“Law enforcement reports that drug dealers frequently combine drugs with chocolate or fruit flavors or package the drugs to look like candy or soda to attract youth,” the senators claimed in a joint statement. “For example, there are reports of candy bracelets containing ecstasy; gummy bears laced with Xanax; and candy laced with THC.”
“Cynical criminals take advantage of drug trends in the general population to market dangerous illicit drugs specifically to kids,” Grassley added in a separate press release. “It could be marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine or something else. The criminals are innovative, and the law should keep up with them. Federal law should make crystal clear that marketing potentially lethal drugs to kids will have steep consequences.”
The problem for Feinstein and Grassley, who have unsuccessfully filed the bill three times before, is that the crisis they wish to solve largely doesn’t exist. The first time around, they were inspired by media reports of strawberry-flavored meth, but those have been roundly debunked as myths.
Some of their other claims are even more ludicrous. “Gummy bears laced with Xanax” seem only to be found on the furthest fringes of the web (a Reddit user subforum, to be precise) dedicated to bored drug hobbyists with too much time on their hands.
And the “candy bracelets containing ecstasy” claim appears to be based on a misreading of raver culture percolated through a concerned parents group.
“People (especially at Raves) have started wearing bracelets lined with ecstasy as opposed to the old candy bracelets kids used to wear,” warned something called Careful Parents. “Much like the candy bracelets of old, people can eat the drug right off the bracelets. Google images of these bracelets for a better idea of what they look like and be on the lookout if your kids like to go to Raves.”
But that warning was based on a 10-year-old story about rave culture in the Seattle Times — a story that indeed mentioned bracelets and ecstasy and “candy kisses” (the sharing of beaded bracelets), but did not claim that the bracelets were made of ecstasy. The wearing of colorful bracelets is part of rave culture, but ecstasy bracelets are a myth based on misunderstanding.
The idea of drug dealers peddling candy-flavored drugs to kids may be an old bugaboo, but it just doesn’t make much economic sense, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
“Those are not popular commodities to sell to children,” he told ATTN:. “Why risk already severe penalties for some kid’s lunch money?”
“This reminds me of the horror stories that you hear every Halloween — where you have people handing out these infused products to children,” Daniel Shortt, an attorney who focuses on cannabis law at the firm Harris Bricken, told ATTN:. “There’s really no data supporting that that happens.”
While candy-flavored meth or ecstasy bracelets are mythical, marijuana edibles and beverages are not. They are sold legally under state laws in medical and adult legal marijuana states, but the text of the bill could certainly be interpreted as aiming at them as well. It specifies that it would apply to people who sell federally illegal drugs to minors that are:
Combined with a beverage or candy product,
Marketed or packaged to appear similar to a beverage or candy product, or
Modified by flavoring or coloring to appear similar to a candy or beverage product.
“That’s broad,” Shortt said. “I worry about how that could applied to marijuana-infused edibles.”
Edibles are often infused in candies, cookies, and chocolates, as well as brightly packaged beverages. It’s not strawberry-flavored meth dealers who are likely to be caught up if this bill ever passes — since they don’t exist — but people selling pot brownies and the like, in the black market or in the legal pot shop, who sell to minors, either knowingly or inadvertently.