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Virginia crackdown on copycat cannabis edibles underway

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares' office says it will now send legal warnings to retailers selling THC products resembling snack products.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Virginia’s top law enforcement office says it’s cracking down on cannabis candies and snacks to protect children.

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced two weeks ago that beginning July 1, his office would start prosecuting retailers he says are illegally selling “copycat candies” and snacks as THC edibles. Virginia law currently bans over-the-counter sales of THC products.

A legitimate bag of Skittles candy placed next to a copycat resembling the popular brand shows little difference at first glance. But the copycat's label advertises 400 milligrams of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis. Doctors say 50 milligrams is enough to cause severe impairment in adults.

An imitation Gushers candy label, found in Arlington, advertises 600 milligrams of THC. Doctors say just one piece is meant for therapeutic usage for cancer patients requiring high doses.

However, if children eat these products, it can have serious consequences, doctors say. 

"It can even cause them to stop breathing or have a seizure," said Dr. Jill McCabe, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at the INOVA hospital in Leesburg, Virginia. "The younger the child, the more significant the danger. There have been hospitalizations, and even one death attributed to it. In terms of our local experience, it is something that we see here and have seen several cases in the last year."

Credit: Becca Knier
A copycat THC edible of Skittles on the left with the real product on right.

McCabe added that parents often unknowingly expose their children to cannabis candies.

"I've had a case where a parent had something in their luggage [after] a trip and the children got into it," she said. "It looked like candy and the children ate it." 

Doctors warn it can take several hours for children to show the symptoms of THC exposure, leading to confusion at the hospital.

"We ultimately find out that they did accidentally ingest marijuana by running a tox screen," McCabe said. "I think that's the most frightening because the breadth of possibilities that could cause a child to act that way leads to all kinds of testing until we determine the root cause." 

WUSA9 found multiple smoke shops in Northern Virginia selling cannabis candies over the counter. Now, a first offense will mean a written warning, according to Miyares' office and a second offense could mean a lawsuit.

As for going after the edible manufacturers themselves for copyright infringement, one challenge is that many of these copycats don’t label who made them.

Credit: Becca Knier
A copycat THC edible of Gushers candy on the left, the real product is on the right.

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