Police crack down on marijuana edibles packaged as candy
I'm sure it looked impressive on the 6 o'clock news. There stood Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, surrounded by dozens of packages containing cannabis-infused candies and other products confiscated in a raid of a central Fresno marijuana dispensary.
"Hopefully we'll ultimately prevent some child in our community from being seriously injured or killed as a result of coming into contact with some of the items," Dyer told the assembled news media.
Sorry, but I'm not buying that explanation. It's little more than fallacious fear-stoking guised as policing.
Bee photographer John Walker took closeups of several packages that were laid out on the table at police headquarters. One in particular caught my eye. It contained gummy bears and had a label with the words "Keep out of the reach of children and animals" printed in bold.
But what stood out were three letters printed in even larger typeface on the top of the label: CBD.
CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol, one of more than 100 chemical compounds contained within the cannabis plant. Unlike THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not have psychoactive effects.
In other words, CBD doesn't get you stoned. Rather, the compound has shown to have a wide range of medicinal benefits. People use it to treat everything from chronic pain to infections to epilepsy.
So when Dyer's officers seized and confiscated all those packages of edibles (three of the five in Walker's closeups were marked as CBD), they weren't taking dangerous drugs off the streets. They were taking medicine. Forcing the patients of that particular dispensary to turn elsewhere.
I realize we're in a gray area here. Even though Proposition 64 legalized recreational marijuana in California, Fresno remains well behind the curve and the times. Here both recreational and medical sales remain illegal, though it appears likely the City Council will soon buckle on the medicinal part.
Moreover, state law contains specific provisions for edibles. They cannot be designed "to be appealing to children or easily confused with commercially sold candy or food." They cannot be made "in the shape of a person, animal, insect or fruit." And they cannot "exceed 10 milligram of THC per serving." (There is no such limit for CBD.)
So, technically, Fresno police officers were enforcing the law when they raided the Collective Element Marijuana Dispensary near First Street and Dakota Avenue on the evening of April 27 following a two-month investigation.
Except Dyer didn't sell it like that during his May 2 press conference. He sold it to us as "protecting the children." Which is where cloudy facts and motives intersect.
"I do not buy that at all," said Leslie Ann Eller, assistant deputy director for Central Valley NORML. "The cops don't believe in marijuana that much, they want to show force and they want to remind everyone who runs the town, and that's Jerry Dyer."
To his credit, Dyer readily agreed to meet with me about this topic. He and I spoke for a half an hour at his favorite Starbucks.
"I knew going into that news conference that there were going to be critics," Dyer said between sips of iced coffee. "I have a lot of criticism over this and I don't care. Because I feel a moral obligation to let folks know in this community what is out there and what their kids may ingest."
I think everyone, from habitual marijuana users to its staunchest opponents, can agree we don't want edibles to end up in the mouths of children.
I'll also concede that edibles designed to mimic candy are extra enticing. Which is why that provision of the law exists.
But you're not going to convince me that these edibles are any more dangerous to kids than the alcohol stored in their parents' liquor cabinet. Or the opioid-based painkillers in the medicine cabinet. Or the handgun that isn't properly stowed or secured. In fact, I'd argue those are more dangerous.
Because as far as I can tell, there has only been one instance where someone died as a result of marijuana edibles. It happened in 2014 in Colorado, when a 19-year-old exchange student leaped to his death from a fourth-floor balcony after ingesting a THC-infused cookie that contained six times the recommended dosage.
Compare that to the number of people who die every year due to alcohol, opiates or handguns.
Again, I think we can all agree we don't want dispensaries selling to minors. Do police have any evidence this occurred at the place they raided?
"There was a parent that was bringing in a minor there when (police) were there, and there were other minors that were frequenting that business," Dyer replied.
Dyer told me he supports medical marijuana, as long as it's done within the confines of state law. He also said he's not out to bust all the dispensaries, which would be difficult considering there are 76 of them in Fresno and another 44 online delivery services. (Both those figures came from his press conference.)
"If I wanted to, I could go after a whole bunch of dispensaries," he said. "But I went after one to send a message. And I hope that message was heard loud and clear, especially among parents."
Unfortunately, that's not the only message this raid sent. Thanks to decades of demonization, much of it fueled by alcohol and tobacco interests, marijuana still carries a stigma. Police actions like this only reinforce that stigma. That people who get their medicine from dispensaries instead of pharmacists are druggies, and the employees of such establishments can still get their mugs displayed like drug dealers.
Based on the latest crime statistics, you can argue argue Fresno police are doing a bang-up job. This was far from their finest moment. Publicized raids on marijuana dispensaries may get Dyer on the 6 o'clock news, but they only serve to propagate falsehoods.