In recent months, at least two companies, Chronic Candies and ICUP, have introduced candies and lollipops with marijuana flavoring. While manufacturers reasonably claim they are aimed at an adult, marijuana-friendly market, politicians across the country have risen up to denounce them as a demonic ploy designed to seduce children into the dark world of drug addiction. Moves are afoot in various localities from Atlanta to New York City and Connecticut to Michigan to Missouri to Texas to ban the products. Chicago has already done so, passing an ordinance June 30 to prohibit the confections.
The uproar over the candies has naturally attracted the attention of the press, but in many cases, media outlets have gotten crucial facts wrong -- and the hemp industry could be the victim of the press's unwitting errors, according to industry spokesmen.
The pot-flavored candies are made with cannabis flower essential oil, which imparts the fragrant aroma of fresh buds and which contains trace elements of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but not enough to get anyone high. The cannabis flower essential oil comes from growers in Switzerland and other European countries.
Cannabis flower essential oil is entirely different from hemp seed oil, which is protected under the Controlled Substances Act and which forms the basis of many hemp food products. That is a distinction too fine for some members of the press. In its story on the Chicago ordinance, the Associated Press wrote that "the candies are legal because they are made with hemp oil." Reuters came up with a similar formulation. The Chicago Tribune referred to them as "hemp-flavored candies." Even Jordan Smith, the Austin Chronicle's drug reporter, referred to the "hemp candy craze."
The same phenomenon occurred when the furor first broke earlier this year in England. The British press may be somewhat forgiven for errantly referring to the candies as "containing hemp extract and not cannabis," as the Evening Star put it, because some of the European manufacturers of the candies labeled them as being made with hemp.
But whatever the reason for the inaccurate press reports, they need to be corrected, said Tom Murphy, national outreach director for Vote Hemp, an industry lobbying group. "There are bills to ban these candies in Michigan and New Jersey that explicitly mention hemp or hemp oil. We don't want to see states trying to ban hemp oil because of this. It is not that we oppose the candies so much as we don't want to have the candies identified as hemp or hemp-flavored. Say pot or marijuana or cannabis, and we're happy," he told DRCNet. "We just don't want the hemp industries foods tarred with this broad brush."
It's not that the hemp people are overly sensitive, said Murphy; this is about business. "When you have all this legislation put into play, we have to have people monitoring, writing letters, getting amendments to protect hemp oil. It can get rather expensive. Instead of focusing on the new hemp bill in Congress, we're putting out fires."
The rush to legislate against the candies by lawmakers leaping to save the kiddies from pot-flavored doom is not only silly, but probably unnecessary, said hemp industry spokesmen. That's because they are illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.
"Cannabis flavored lollipops and candy should not be considered a hemp food under the exemption in the Controlled Substances Act," said Joe Sandler, the Hemp Industries Association attorney who guided it to victory in its lawsuit over DEA efforts to exercise control over hemp and hemp products. "Although cannabis flavored candies likely will not cause a psychoactive effect and contain insignificant trace amounts of THC, they will be considered illegal insofar as they include fragrance or flavorings derived from the non-exempt trace resin of hemp stalks or other parts of the cannabis plant."
But not everyone thinks the issue is so cut and dried. "This is an adult product. I don't intend and I don't want kids to eat it," said Tony Van Pelt, president of one manufacturer, Chronic Candy. "There are 78 million pot smokers out there (in the United States)... That's who I'm going after," he told the AP. "I think this is crazy. There is nothing illegal about it. Freedom of choice is being attacked," he said.
Van Pelt told the Austin Chronicle the candies contain no THC, as did Matthew Huijgen, owner of Cannabis Candies, another company selling cannabis flower extract candies. Van Pelt said the Food and Drug Administration had confirmed his candies contained no THC and that he got "de facto" approval of his foreign shipments from the FBI, which investigated because of the strong odor coming from boxes of lollipops.
Not so, said Vote Hemp's Murphy. If federal law enforcement authorities have allowed such products to enter the United States it's because they haven't been paying attention, he said. "These lollipops are, in the eyes of the law, pot-on-a-stick, and should not in any way be associated with nutritious hemp foods, no more than controlled opium essential oil fragrance should be confused with exempt poppy seeds consumed on bagels every day." All of the smoke and noise about passing laws to criminalize the candies is little more than posturing, he said. "All this hoo-hoo is nothing but show. If you really wanted to do something about it, call your local DEA or police and have them confiscate it."
Chronic Candy, which claims it ships 100,000 pieces a month, continues to sell the products. Another vendor, ICUP, which sold Pot Suckers brand lollipops, has announced it is no longer doing so. It was a simple business decision for a multi-layered company, ICUP's attorney said in a statement.
And so the great debate stands. The candies definitely aren't hemp, but they're not really marijuana either, and freedom of choice is definitely being denied, for no solid reason even on the drug war's terms. Are the candies illegal under federal law, or do Mrs. Lovejoys everywhere need to take to the streets yelling "What about the children?"