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New challenge for police

Commercial marijuana products confiscated by Oklahoma agents in one seizure in July. (Photo - Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics)

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

Some experts worry that smuggled pot edibles will appeal to many consumers, particularly adolescents, who are inexperienced with the slow onset of effects from eating marijuana as opposed to smoking it. Those not familiar with edibles, or have never smoked marijuana, can easily eat too much too fast, suffering paranoia, anxiety attacks and symptoms resembling psychosis. Already, young children in states where medical marijuana is legal have eaten pot edibles left within reach, and ended up in the hospital.

There are no hard numbers for the amount of edibles being trafficked across state lines, 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 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.

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 sweets laced with marijuana has caught many health officials by surprise. Pot edibles took off in 2014, the first year of recreational sales in Colorado. Nearly five million individual edibles, both medical and recreational, were sold.

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. Eating or ingesting marijuana can take one to three hours to produce its high, while smoking takes minutes. Inexperienced consumers easily eat too much, winding up severely impaired and experiencing uncomfortable side effects.

In addition, the effects of eating these pot-infused goodies 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.

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

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 alerted them 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 will try to stay on top of it.”

Written by: Catherine Saint Louis, The New York Times
Posted: Jun 04, 2015 by Lisa Callaham

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