Nothing epitomizes the hysteria and hypocrisy surrounding marijuana better than Actiq - a raspberry-flavored lollipop that contains 2 grams of sugar, a smidgen of citric acid, and enough fentanyl to kill a person or leave them with a lifelong addiction to opioids, which are currently racking up historic death tolls in the United States as well as Canada.
Actiq sounds like the kind of thing invented by deranged druggies. You know, the kind of twisted stoners who allegedly hand out marijuana-laced candy to kids on Halloween. But it's actually an FDA-approved medicine that has been available to treat severe chronic pain for years. Meanwhile, medical marijuana can't even get a hearing in Congress. And politicians frequently stoke unfounded fears about cannabis use (the old 'gateway drug' theory) as well as suspicion toward cannabis users.
Much like the World Series, warnings of cannabis edibles sneaking into hauls of Halloween candy have become an annual October tradition. Every year in legal states, parents are told to be wary of devious cannabis consumers handing out sweets laced with THC - even though no cases of tainted candy have been reported in Colorado or Oregon. And while an edible was allegedly found in a trick-or-treat bag in Illinois in 2016, those cases are rare. But that doesn't stop reporters, police officers and concerned parents from stoking fears of cannabis-laced candy.
Those fears have since been weaponized in the anti-legalization movement. When Floridans got ready to vote on the (successful) ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, opponents tried to sway them with hysterical claims that deranged potheads would hand out THC-infused candy to kids on Halloween. And even legalization supporters like former Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are wary of edibles because of the bad press they got when Colorado began selling them in 2014 (without the labels, suggested doses and warnings that are now legally required). Simply put, cannabis edibles are both a rallying point for the opposition and a stumbling block for advocates of legalization.
Now, we're not saying that people shouldn't be concerned about keeping kids away from cannabis. But there's an obvious discrepancy between concerns over cannabis and opioids. You don't see concerned members of the community warning parents to check treat bags for smack lollipops every year. Nor do you see activists stigmatizing cancer patients by suggesting they might slip their potentially deadly medicine into the candy bowl.
And we're not exaggerating the dangers of the opioid lollipop. Here's how the manufacturers of Actiq describe its risks: "ACTIQ exposes users to risks of addiction, abuse, and misuse, which can lead to overdose and death." Despite those complications, Actiq has been approved for patients as young as 16 while marijuana remains prohibited.
That's a particularly bitter irony for anyone who becomes opioid-dependent thanks to Actiq. Recent research suggests that marijuana might be an effective alternative to opioid painkillers, and cannabis could also combat opioid addiction. On top of that, marijuana is safer than opioids. Nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose. Meanwhile, over 33,000 Americans died from overdosing on opioids in 2015 alone.
But we probably won't see significant progress with legalizing cannabis or controlling the opioid epidemic so long as cannabis edibles get a bad rap while the opioid lollipop gets a free pass from the press.