Iowa’s Attorney General tweets odd warning about THC-laced Halloween candy, deletes it

Jav Ducker/Little Village

For some Americans, the scariest part of Halloween is the prospect that a neighbor might attack their child via tainted candy. It doesn’t matter that it apparently doesn’t happened, certainly not on a scale that warrants a public health warning — every year, police department press releases, local TV news and social media posts warn parents of the latest trick-or-treating trap, from razorblades in apples to fun-sized chocolate bars injected with poison to, most recently, THC edibles disguised as candy, tricking your kids into getting more lit than a jack-o’-lantern.

“Halloween festivities are just around the corner,” the Iowa Attorney General’s official Twitter account posted Wednesday in a tweet that has since been deleted. “Make sure you check your child’s treats for these illegal cannabis products that look like popular snacks and candy.”

This photo of “illegal cannabis products that look like popular snacks and candy” was included in Attorney General Tom Miller’s now-deleted tweet.

The tweet, featuring images of cannabis products packaged to mimic Sour Patch Kids, Oreos, Cheetos and other snacks, is almost identical to one Philadelphia, Pennsylvania newscaster Jaclyn Lee tweeted on Sept. 28. That tweet was quickly ratio’d, in social media parlance; mocking replies to it (one featuring a photo of a handgun pushed into a fun-sized Twix bar saying, “These things happen ALL the time”) far outnumbered the likes on the tweet.

Recreational cannabis is illegal in both Iowa and Pennsylvania, so none of the products shown are readily available for purchase. In states that do allow for the production and sale of snacks infused with THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, those products are required to be labeled and packaged in a way that distinguishes them from non-cannabis products. And like other over-the-counter drugs, packaging must be tamper proof and child proof.

While there have been increased incidents of children consuming their parents’ edibles in states where recreational marijuana is legalized, there doesn’t appear to be a connection to Halloween, or intentional drugging by strangers. After all, it’s hard to imagine an adult shelling out $15 or more for a single bag of THC-laced edibles, just to give it away to an unsuspecting child.

“This spreads primarily among people who have no idea what this stuff costs,” University of Delaware sociology professor Joel Best told the New York Times in an article published hours before the Iowa AG’s tweet. After studying numerous Halloween candy hoaxes between 1958 and 2021, Best said he “can’t find any evidence of any child being killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.”

Little Village emailed Attorney General Tom Miller’s office to inquire further about the tweet, but has yet to receive a reply. In the time since Little Village reached out, the tweet was deleted. A follow-up tweet just before 3 p.m. Wednesday said the “earlier Tweet lacked context & has been deleted,” but to the extent context has been added, it is still unclear why the state’s top legal officer or his staff felt compelled to alert parents their children may collect THC-laced products while trick-or-treating this week.

The new tweet does link to a press release from the office of Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, which is the apparent source of the photos in Miller’s tweets. The photos are described in the press release as marijuana products “confiscated” by Connecticut authorities. Tong cautions adults to keep THC products out of reach of children, especially if the products’ packaging resembles kid-friendly snacks. Unlike Miller’s tweet, he makes no reference to Halloween, trick-or-treating or the need for parents to sift through their children’s haul for edibles. Public service announcements regarding cannabis are also less strange in the state of Connecticut, which recently became the 18th state to legalize adult recreational cannabis use and is actively preparing residents to consume such products responsibly.

Meanwhile, Iowa is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests. A Black person in Iowa is 7.3 times more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person, according to an ACLU report published in April 2020. Iowa’s medical marijuana program is also one of the most restrictive in the U.S., capping THC levels in a patients’ cannabidiol supply to just 4.5 grams per each 90-day period, although there is an exemption for patients who are diagnosed as having a terminal illness and less than a year to live.

A March 2021 Iowa Poll published by the Des Moines Register showed more than half of Iowans support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes, and 78 percent favored expanding the state’s medical marijuana program.

Still, Iowa’s Republican-led legislature has not taken the steps other states have to prepare for what many see as marijuana’s inevitable legalization. Rather, one Iowa senator, Republican Dan Dawson of Council Bluffs, sponsored a bill to heavily tax the sale of glass pipes in Iowa on the unfounded premise they’re being used for not just tobacco or even marijuana, but meth, heroin and cocaine. Despite dubious constitutionality and outcry from business owners, that bill passed the Senate unanimously in February, and awaits approval by the House.

Miller, a Democrat, announced in September he is running for an 11th term as attorney general. The 77-year-old Dubuque native was first elected in 1978 and has been in office for 38 of the last 42 years. In 1990, he chose to run for governor instead of attorney general and was defeated in the general election by Terry Branstad. Miller ran for attorney general again in 1994 and won.

Update: In an email to Little Village Thursday morning, Tom Miller’s chief of staff Lynn Hicks said:

The original tweet was not thought out, and we had no intention of suggesting that people were giving these products to children in Iowa or elsewhere. Our intention was simply to let people know about these products and the possible dangers to children, who may find them in the homes of family or friends. Obviously, these dangers exist all year long, not simply around Halloween.

These products can be purchased from several online sites.

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