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


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 double-bagged to 
smother the distinctive scent.

But these days, Chief 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, 
Chief 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," Chief Jeffries 
said. "We hope it's the last time."

That seems increasingly unlikely. Across the country, law enforcement 
agencies 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 J. MacCoun, a professor of law at Stanford who recently 
co-wrote 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 New Jersey, which has medical dispensaries where pot edibles 
cannot be sold, the state police last month seized 80 pounds of 
homemade marijuana sweets from the car of a Brooklyn man. In July, 
the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs confiscated 
roughly 40 pounds of commercial marijuana products in one seizure, 
including taffylike Cheeba Chews and bottles of cannabis lemonade.

"There's no doubt there's a growing market for edible marijuana 
products," said Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma bureau.

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 five 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 a half 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 was 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."

Buyers may not realize that the psychoactive effects of eating 
marijuana, which are largely due to a chemical called 
tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are much more unpredictable than 
smoking it. An edible can take one to three hours to produce its 
maximal high, while smoking takes minutes. Inexperienced consumers 
easily eat too much, winding up severely impaired.

Moreover, the effects of consumption can vary dramatically for each 
person from day to day, depending on what else is in the stomach, 
said Kari L. Franson, an associate professor of clinical pharmacy at 
the University of Colorado. "Compare that to smoking - within minutes 
you have a maximum effect," she said. "It's much easier to control."

Law enforcement officials say it is not yet clear how smugglers are 
laying hands on large quantities of prepackaged pot edibles. Some may 
obtain them from medical dispensaries. The Illinois state police 
charged a man in Kane County, Ill., with cannabis trafficking last 
year after discovering that 42 pounds of marijuana-infused chocolate 
had been sent to his home.

The chocolate was traced to a medical dispensary in California. 
Officers declined to pursue charges against the dispensary, saying 
its staff had done nothing wrong.

The manufacturers themselves say they receive constant requests for 
out-of-state shipments.

James Howler, the chief executive of Cheeba Chews, based in Denver, 
said his team fields emails from people nationwide - from epilepsy 
patients in Iowa to a retired mechanic in Florida, all of whom would 
rather snack on marijuana than smoke it.

"The needs and curiosity from around the country can be 
overwhelming," he said. Still, Mr. Howler said, he declines them all. 
"It is highly illegal, and stupid to think we would risk everything," he said.

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.

"It's just now gaining in popularity," he said of pot edibles in 
North Alabama. "We'll try to stay on top of it."

Elisa Cho contributed research.
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