Pubdate: Sun, 17 May 2015
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Catherine Saint Louis, The New York Times


After nearly 20 years on the job, Jim Jeffries, the police chief in 
LaFollette, Tenn., has seen his share of marijuana seizures - dry 
green buds stashed in trunks or beneath seats, often doublebagged to 
smother the distinctive scent.

But these days, Jeffries is on the lookout for something unexpected: 
lollipops and marshmallows.

Recently his officers pulled over a Chevy Blazer driven by a couple 
with three children in tow. Inside, the officers discovered 24 pounds 
of marijuana-laced cookies and small hard candies shaped like 
gingerbread men, plus a tub of pungent marijuana butter perfect for 
making more.

The bags of Kraft marshmallows looked innocent enough. But a meat 
injector was also found in the car. After searching the Internet, 
Jeffries realized that the marshmallows probably had been infused 
with the marijuana butter and heat-sealed into their bags.

"This is the first time that we have ever seen marijuana butter or 
any of this candy containing marijuana in the county," Jeffries said. 
"We hope it's the last time."

That seems increasingly unlikely. Across the country, law enforcement 
long accustomed to seizures of bagged, smokable marijuana are now 
wrestling with a surge in marijuana-infused snacks and confections 
transported illegally across state lines for resale.

Pot edibles, as they are called, can be much easier to smuggle than 
marijuana buds: They may resemble candy or home-baked goodies, and 
often have no telltale smell. And few police officers are trained to 
think of gummy bears, mints or neon-colored drinks as potential dope.

Some experts worry that smuggled pot edibles will appeal to many 
consumers, particularly adolescents, who are ill prepared for the 
deceptively slow high. Impatient novices can easily eat too much too 
fast, suffering anxiety attacks and symptoms resembling psychosis. 
Already, young children have eaten laced sweets left within reach.

Many live in states where there has been no public education about 
responsible consumption of marijuana.

"Citizens in nonlegalization states are far less likely to be 
receiving those messages, so their risks are probably greater," said 
Robert MacCoun, a professor of law at Stanford who recently cowrote 
an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine urging stronger 
regulation of pot edibles.

There are no hard numbers for the amount of pot edibles being 
trafficked interstate, but police departments in a variety of 
jurisdictions without legal sales report seizing increasing amounts 
in the past year. The quantities suggest the products are intended to 
supply a growing demand, law-enforcement officials say.

In February, Missouri troopers confiscated 400 pounds of commercially 
made marijuana chocolate, including Liquid Gold bars, hidden in boxes 
in an Infiniti QX60. The driver was arrested on suspicion of 
possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

In states where marijuana remains illegal, some entrepreneurs have 
begun cooking large batches of pot edibles for sale. In February, an 
illegal bakery making marijuana brownies and cookies in an 
industrial-size oven was shut down in Warren County, Ohio.

The popularity of confections laced with marijuana has caught many 
health officials by surprise. Pot edibles took off in 2014, the first 
year of recreational sales in Colorado, when nearly 5 million 
individual items were sold to patients and adult users.

Demand in Colorado and Washington state has spawned a stunning 
assortment of snacks and sweets, from Mondo's sugar-free vegan bars 
to Dixie Edibles' white chocolate peppermint squares.

Today consumers 21 and older can legally buy pot edibles in those two 
states; soon adults in Oregon and Alaska will join them. Pot edibles 
are available to medical users in at least half a dozen of the 23 
states with medical marijuana programs.

Edibles make sense for marijuana entrepreneurs. In the past, 
marijuana buds were sold and the rest of the plant usually discarded. 
But with an extraction machine, makers of edible products can use the 
entire plant.

"In a world where THC becomes inexpensive, you would like to 
differentiate your product from other people's products in ways that 
allow you to maintain a higher profit margin," said Jonathan 
Caulkins, a co-author of "Marijuana Legalization," who has studied 
black markets for cocaine and marijuana. "Edibles offer some 
opportunities for that."

Until last year, Sgt. Jerry King, who works for a drug task force in 
Alabama, had never seen pot edibles in the mail. In February, postal 
inspectors flagged a package, and the task force seized roughly 87 
pounds of smokable marijuana and 50 packages of marijuana candies.

Law-enforcement officials say it is not yet clear how smugglers are 
laying hands on large quantities of prepackaged pot edibles.

"It's just now gaining in popularity," King said of pot edibles in 
north Alabama. "We'll try to stay on top of it."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom