Illinois warns parents against cannabis look-alike treats ahead of Halloween

·3 min read

The Illinois attorney general’s office issued a warning Tuesday to be extra careful about which treats end up in your child’s hands this Halloween — they could be a cannabis edible look-alike that will impart more than a sugar high.

The potentially illicit cannabis edibles, which mimic everything from Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to Skittles, are sold online and may contain high concentrations of THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana. That could pose a serious threat to children if consumed, the attorney general’s office said.

“Accidental cannabis overdoses by children are increasing nationwide, and these look-alike products will only exacerbate the danger by appealing to children and youth,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a news release.

During the first half of 2021, the American Association of Poison Control Centers, a nonprofit organization representing 55 centers across the U.S., reported 2,077 emergency calls related to children 12 and under ingesting cannabis products. There were 153 such incidents reported during all of 2016, according to association data.

While Illinois regulates legal cannabis edibles sold through licensed dispensaries, a booming black market may skirt both state regulations and intellectual property laws, offering products that are packaged like well-known candies and snacks, but pack the extra punch of THC.

In May, Chicago-based candy giant Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Terphogz, a California company that produces Zkittlez. The suit alleges the cannabis-infused candies are meant to “cause confusion” with Wrigley’s Skittles brand and pose a danger to children. That case is ongoing in Chicago federal court.

Wrigley also sued four other companies in the U.S. and Canada for selling cannabis-infused edibles branded to resemble Skittles, Starburst and Life Savers.

Similar trademark infringement lawsuits have been filed in recent years against cannabis-infused products resembling Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Sour Patch Kids and Nerds Rope candy.

The attorney general’s office warned that cannabis edibles sold outside of Illinois’ regulated market may have much higher levels of THC. In Illinois, legal edible products may contain up to 10 milligrams of THC per adult serving, with no more than 100 milligrams of THC in the package.

The attorney general said a single bag of look-alike Cheetos can contain 600 milligrams of THC. If a child were to eat the entire bag, they would be consuming 60 times the maximum legal adult serving in Illinois.

A variety of cannabis-infused Flamin’ Hot Cheetos look-alike products is marketed online. Frito-Lay, which makes Cheetos, does not offer cannabis edibles.

Jason Erkes, spokesman for Chicago-based Cresco Labs, a large multistate cannabis operator that owns 10 Sunnyside retail dispensaries and three cultivation centers in Illinois, said the company’s edible products would never be confused with candy intended for children.

“The stuff we sell is appropriately packaged and branded, and in child safety sealed containers, with very clear labeling that this is a medicated cannabis product,” Erkes said. “When you’re buying something on the illicit market, or from a source that isn’t reputable, you’re not going to have those safeguards in place.”

Erkes questioned the likelihood that cannabis edibles would intentionally end up in Halloween bags, if only because of the prohibitive cost of filling up a candy bowl for trick-or-treaters.

“You’re paying $40 or $50 for a 100 milligram pack of 10 edibles, versus $2.99 for a package of candy,” Erkes said.

Recreational marijuana was legalized in Illinois in January 2020. Total sales reached $1.03 billion last year, including $669 million in recreational weed and more than $366 million in medical sales, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The state’s marijuana revenue pace has accelerated this year, with nearly $1.3 billion in total sales through September, including $997 million in recreational cannabis products.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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