LA sheriffs warn parents of pot-laced treats

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Capt. Ralph Ornelas talks to the press Oct. 29, 2010 about marijuana-laced edibles that resemble typical food products and Halloween candy that can pose a threat to children and teenagers.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Capt. Ralph Ornelas talks to the press Oct. 29, 2010 about marijuana-laced edibles that resemble typical food products and Halloween candy that can pose a threat to children and teenagers. Shirley Jahad/KPCC

MONTEREY PARK — The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department today warned parents to be on the lookout for marijuana-laced packaged foods and other edibles that could be handed out on Halloween.

The warning comes two days before Halloween, and four days before an election in which a proposition to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults is on the ballot. Sheriff Lee Baca has come out against the measure, Proposition 19.

Sheriff's Capt. Ralph Ornelas of the Narcotics Bureau said the department was unaware of any incidents of marijuana-laced items being handed out to children in past years, but wanted to warn of the possibility.

"We felt obligated to share this information with the parents and the community,'' Ornelas said.

Ornelas said detectives recently seized various edibles with pot in them that were being sold at marijuana dispensaries and other locations.

The products are "packaged to attract children and teens,'' Ornelas said.

Ornelas said that some items were labeled with the warning "for medicinal use only; keep out of reach of children,'' but authorities were concerned that children might not read the warnings — or might not be able to
read at all. The edibles appear similar to other packaged foods, he said.

"You really can't tell the difference,'' Ornelas said.

Health concerns include the possible presence of toxins from pesticides and fertilizers, Ornelas said.

"The items were determined to be unlicensed, untested, and improperly labeled to warn consumers of the contents or dosage,'' Ornelas said.

"Parents and teachers are encouraged to check Halloween candy and their children's snack items for indications that they may be packaged in this manner — which contains drugs — or in another, unfamiliar or tampered manner,'' he added.

Marijuana advocates deny the products are meant to attract children, and say they are intended to be used by adults who don't want to ingest the drug by smoking it.

Since marijuana is currently illegal, there are no licenses, tests or labeling requirements for pot.

But Chief Bill McSweeney of the sheriff's department said the products are in violation of numerous state and federal laws governing the packaging, labeling and distribution of food.

"Since the cannabis is being sold as an edible food product, it is in violation of numerous food product labeling and distribution requirements,'' he said.

Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access disagreed, saying the marijuana is being sold as medicine and not food.

"There are no labeling requirements under state law, no food processing requirements (for medical marijuana),'' he said. "If the city wants to adopt regulations to oversee the production of medical marijuana edibles, that's their prerogative.''

He said the recent city and county ordinances regulating medical marijuana do not address edibles.

"It's pretty disingenuous to come out and say these folks are violating state law when by all accounts they are complying with state and local law, too,'' he said.

He said most edible edible pot products say on their labels that they contain marijuana and are for medical use by adults.

"We see this as nothing more than a P.R. campaign to undermine the right patients have to obtain food-based medicine from (dispensaries) not only in Los Angeles but across the state,'' he said.

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