Kelloggs, General Mills and others want a crackdown on marijuana-laced copycats

Placeholder while article actions load Two fourth-graders in Edmond, Okla., went to the hospital after…

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Two fourth-graders in Edmond, Okla., went to the hospital after eating what looked like commercial gummy candies. In Cooper City, Fla., nine children were hospitalized after snarfing what seemed almost identical to a common brand of sour candy. And in Roy, Utah, five children consumed a candy called Nerds Rope, leaving two of them hospitalized. The package looked just like the popular candy made by Nestlé — but the product contained 400 milligrams of THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes people high. The candy with about 40 times the normal dose used by regular pot smokers was accidentally given out in food boxes to 63 people at the Utah Food Bank.

This week, a dozen major food and beverage companies including Pepsi, General Mills and Kellogg called on Congress to do more to prevent the proliferation of marijuana-infused copycat products that mimic their well-known brands.

They want to deter the sale of the products by broadening an existing law so that THC-laced products that simulate the “famous marks” of known brands would be considered counterfeit.

“Double Stuf Stoneos” might be worth a chuckle if you’re in the right frame of mind, but children are increasingly being duped by the use of famous brand logos, characters, trademarks and fonts on edible products containing THC. On the label, they see the same come-hither chocolate wafers and creamy filling of their favorite cookie but do not zero in on the knockoff’s fine print that says, “Contains THC.” They may not even be reading yet.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported 2,362 THC exposure cases from the start of 2021 through this February. Of those exposures, 41 percent involved children. With medical marijuana now legal in 37 states and recreational cannabis legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, the number of THC- and CBD-infused food and beverage items has exploded.

CBD-infused food and beverages are still illegal under U.S. law. So why are they everywhere?

New Jersey had its first day of recreational marijuana sales last week. Customers bought almost $2 million worth of recreational cannabis products in a single day, according to the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

But that’s a problem when the edibles involved are Cheetos, Doritos or other tasty name-brand treats, said Danielle Ompad, an epidemiologist who studies illicit drugs. Ompad is the author of a new study on copycat packaging in cannabis sales that was published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“I don’t imagine a lot of people are trying to dose kids,” she said. “But kids have gotten a hold of people’s products. Even if parents have carefully put them away, kids are crafty little creatures.”

Ompad said that in her investigation of cannabis products, only 8 percent of packages were look-alikes, so it’s not a widespread problem, she said. But frequently, these are sold online, making them harder to regulate or stamp out, said Katie Denis, the vice president for communications at the Consumer Brands Association, one of the groups asking Congress to address the problem.

FDA comes down hard against CBD-infused food and beverage, ending months of silence

She said that in many cases, there are new companies whose sole mission is to make spoof packaging that looks like major brands, often with stoner puns and jokes woven in (in the style of Wacky Packages trading cards in the 1970s that parodied consumer products). Cannabis producers buy the empty bags online and fill them with drug-infused product. Many of the copycat packages list no manufacturer, so tracing them is hard.

“In drug busts, they are finding these empty mylar bags,” she said. “It’s not always clear you could take legal action against the manufacturer of those empty bags.”

Denis said the companies are asking for a simple change to the Shop Safe Act, which bars the sale of “counterfeit” products. They want the language to be amended to include the broader term “famous marks.” That would cover Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah riding his skateboard, which already would be prohibited under existing law, but also the orange-and-red bag festooned with its signature nubby, orange-dusted puffs. A famous mark is something widely recognized by the consuming public. The amendment would make clear that products that loosely spoof well-known products are prohibited for sale online under the law if they “implicate health and safety.”

“This amendment would be giving us the tools we need to go after the problem at the root source,” Denis said. “If it’s not this, it should be something else, because the problem is growing.”

While there have been no reports of deaths associated with overdoses of marijuana products, the copycat products are not harmless: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who have eaten THC-laced foods can become very sick, and “they may have problems walking or sitting up or may have a hard time breathing.”

Many supporters of broader availability of marijuana are nevertheless concerned that copycat products in the hands of children might turn public sentiment against legalization of the drug.

“It was inevitable that something like this was going to happen from these large brands. Cannabis companies have used intellectual property owned by these brands to build following for themselves for years,” said Paul Henderson, the chief executive of High Times, a cannabis magazine started in 1974.

“We can’t say that High Times has never taken advertising from [makers of look-alike products] in the past, but it’s something we’re much more in tune with today as the market has changed and matured,” he said.

Food companies have invested decades in developing the credibility and trustworthiness of their recognizable brands, “and they are being hijacked,” said Fred Niehaus, the chairman of the Policy Center for Public Health and Safety, a cannabis advocacy group.

“We are in a transition period, and we have to separate the legitimate cannabis industry from the illicit operators.”


https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/04/29/thc-infused-copycat-foods/