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The Haymaker: This Halloween Let’s Kill Some Cannabis Stereotypes

October 31, 2017
‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

Let’s talk about Halloween and urban legends.

In the 1970s it was all about needles and razor blades. “Check your candy,” the grownups never failed to warn us before, during, and after our trick-or-treating sorties. “Watch out for needles and razor blades.”

'Check your candy,' we were told as kids. 'Watch out for needles and razor blades.'

Watch out for what?!

The constant warnings—year after freakin’ year—made us wonder if secreting needles in Fun Size Snickers was a common adult prank, some weird sort of thrill like wearing lampshades on their heads, or engaging in sexual intercourse. As for the razor blades, well, what sort of psychopath would put razor blades in candy bars? Also: Who’s handing out candy bars big enough to hide a razor blade, and can I reach their house by foot?

In the late 2010s, cannabis-infused edibles have become the new needles and razor blades.

Like clockwork, law enforcement officials started pumping out the scary warnings last week. Local TV news stations broadcast the message. Here’s a bit of urban legendry from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office:


Philadelphia’s ABC 6 Action News team jumped on the case, repeating the scare on yesterday’s 5:30am newscast. Fox 29 got in on the act, too.

State police in Pennsylvania parroted the story. “Police base their warning on numerous recent reports of candy and other edible forms of marijuana in New Jersey and other surrounding states,” reported the York Daily Record. Philadelphia magazine got pranked too. Stations as far away as Texas repeated the tale.

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Calling Out the Nonsense

Fortunately, this year we’re finally seeing some significant pushback from mainstream reporters. In the Sacramento Bee, Matthew Martinez pointed out that “there is little to no evidence” of anyone giving an underage trick-or-treater “either mistakenly or with malice, a weed edible in place of candy.” The Washington Post‘s always insightful Wonkblog columnist, Christopher Ingraham, came straight out with it. “There are no documented cases of kids being poisoned by marijuana-laced Halloween candy,” he wrote. “Zero. Zilch. Nada.”

Here at Leafly HQ we were pleasantly surprised to see the Associated Press, which is usually the carrier of these viral scare stories, call out the New Jersey myth: “No apparent evidence that’s ever happened,” the news service reported.

These scare stories don’t just replace needles with infused edibles. They trade on and reinforce a nefarious stereotype about cannabis consumers—that they’re a bunch of irresponsible stoners who get a giggle out of drugging  children.

This woman put it pretty well in her response to the Fox 29 report:

Legalization is forcing those stereotypes to fade, but received “wisdom” about cannabis and people who enjoy it remains remarkably sticky in the American mind.

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Mike Pesca: C’mon, Man!

We saw an example earlier this week from Mike Pesca, the usually bright, insightful writer and podcaster for Slate. You may know Pesca for the sports pieces he does for NPR, those weekly “Sports for Nerds” spots where he’d explain the difference between a triangle offense and a cover-two defense. Or, more likely, the difference between a “touch down” and a “field goal.”

'You realize, the specific demographic you're trying to motivate are pot smokers. That's a big ask.'

So Pesca got Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on his podcast and asked Booker about the senator’s Marijuana Justice Act, a legalization measure he introduced earlier this year. After explaining the need for the Act, Booker called out those “people sitting on the sidelines” and not acting to reform cannabis laws. Pesca responded: “You realize, the specific demographic you’re trying to motivate are pot smokers. That’s a big ask.”

Are you kidding me?

Eight states and Washington DC have legalized the adult use of cannabis. 29 states have legalized medical marijuana. Let me ask you, Mike Pesca: Who do you think passed those laws? Who worked for days, weeks, and years to pass those measures, not once in Congress but 38 times around the nation? Your “lazy stoners,” that’s who.

Booker wasn’t having it either. Here’s his answer to Pesca:

“I know in casual conversations in the Congress, many legislators who’ve done pot themselves. This pejorative pot smoker label doesn’t fly. So many Americans have used marijuana or have no judgement for people that do. It’s like saying, ‘Oh, those alcohol drinkers.’ We are a great society, a decent society, a good society, but our criminal justice laws do not reflect the heart of America and we all have got to do something about that.”

Booker Debuts ‘Marijuana Justice Act’ to Legalize Cannabis

I’m taking a lesson from Sen. Booker. He immediately recognized the slagging assumption and the journalistic laziness behind Pesca’s question, and Booker called him on it. He wasn’t letting that nonsense stand. More than anyone on Capitol Hill, Cory Booker knows how that same assumption—They’re just a bunch of stoners, who cares if they’re arrested—has led to the destruction of millions of productive American lives, and the mass incarceration of people of color.

In 2017, mainstream reporters are finally calling bullshit on the annual Halloween edibles scare. The next step is to call out the stereotypes that have ruined lives and put generations of hard-working, smart, productive adults who happen to enjoy cannabis, in prison.

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Bruce Barcott's Bio Image
Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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