CITIES NOT HIGH ON 'POT SUCKERS'
Celebrities May Like Herb-Flavored Candies, But Some Towns Want Nothing To Do With Them
The likes of Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Paris Hilton aren't mentioned in many city ordinances, but two new laws banning the sale of marijuana-flavored candies--one in Chicago, the other in the northwest suburbs--take a swipe at the celebrities for endorsing the bitter-tasting products.
Schaumburg last week became the latest to say no to the hemp-flavored candies, which are popular with young people even though they don't contain the main ingredient in marijuana that causes a high.
With names like "Pot Suckers," the candies were sold for about a year at Woodfield Mall's Spencer Gifts amid the lava lamps, gag gifts and "High Street" signs.
Lawmakers say the candies send the wrong message to children, but young people and the candymakers argue that they're nothing but sugar-filled novelty items and contend that such laws will have little impact on actual drug use.
"The only people who buy that candy are young kids who already smoke marijuana," said Brian Bos, 20, of Elk Grove Village after leaving the Spencer store in Schaumburg. "If anything, it's not a gateway [to drugs] because they've already been gated."
Cities and states across the country are passing or considering similar laws, but Illinois, where Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan is leading the effort, seems to be one of the most aggressive. Chicago was the first major city to outlaw the sale of the candies when its law passed June 29.
Madigan launched an investigation into the candy companies this summer and sent letters to cities alerting them to the products and their potential dangers.
Soon after, local politicians, from Chicago Ald. Edward Burke to officials in Orland Park, Niles and Schaumburg, passed ordinances with penalties of up to $750 a day and possible revocation of business licenses for anyone caught selling the candy.
The Pot Suckers brand is produced by ICUP Inc. and was sold for about a year in stores nationwide. Another company, California-based Chronic Candy, sells its version of hemp-flavored lollipops and gumdrops at concerts and on the Internet in druglike quantities such as "Nickel Bag" with the slogan, "Every lick is like taking a hit."
After Madigan subpoenaed ICUP Inc., the New Jersey company voluntarily discontinued the sale and distribution of Pot Suckers. Madigan's investigation was among many factors that led to the late June decision, said company President Steven Trachtenberg.
"It was a very controversial product, and we felt that our other products would potentially suffer," Trachtenberg said.
A few of the green lollipops are still available in a handful of Illinois Spencer stores where they haven't been banned and cost $1.99 each with a wrapper that claims "tastes like the real 'deal.'"
Those fighting to legalize marijuana, while against banning the sweets, say the candies taste awful.
"Foul, and the word 'nasty' is what is usually evoked," when describing hemp-flavored candies, said Allen St. Pierre, director of NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Tom Durkin, a Chicago lawyer who represents Chronic Candy, described the taste as grassy and oily and said the product contains hemp oil.
St. Pierre said marijuana candy has been around forever but the celebrity endorsements are what created the buzz in council chambers.
Their role is reflected in the Chicago and Schaumburg laws, which both contain this passage among others that describe marijuana's harmful effects:
"Whereas popular, influential and notorious celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nelly and Paris Hilton, have endorsed such hemp-based candies ..."
A clip of Snoop Dogg saying on the Conan O'Brien show that he uses Chronic Candy is featured on the company's Web site, along with a TV report that mentions that Paris Hilton likes the candy. In the past, the site featured a photo of rapper and producer Warren G wearing a Chronic Candy T-shirt.
New York City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez has offered a less aggressive approach, introducing a resolution to condemn the candies. In Michigan, Democratic state Rep. Dudley Spade has proposed a state ban on their sale. "It sends the wrong message to our young people," Spade said. "It tells them that smoking marijuana is a cool thing."
Madigan's office said it is still waiting for more documents and information from Chronic Candy about the company's marketing practices.
Madigan is investigating whether the company has broken deceptive-advertising laws.
"Our goal is to keep them away from children because the message should not be sent that candy is like drugs," said Madigan spokeswoman Melissa Merz.
Chronic Candy, based in Corona, Calif., has a pending contract to sell the product in Illinois, Durkin said.
"My client doesn't market to children and has no desire to market to children," Durkin said. "The candy is made with ingredients that are common in every hard candy sold in the United States. All the legislative reaction to this is nothing but sheer political grandstanding."
Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy disagrees.
"There's enough pressure on these kids at a very early age, from their peers and such, that they don't need any more pressure or influence on them, particularly when they are using all the drug phraseology and all the terms," McCarthy said.
Pot Suckers have been popular among Spencer Gifts' target shoppers, age 18 to 24, said spokeswoman Heather Golin.
"This is definitely an item that our guests like," she said. "It's a flavor of candy, just like there are pina colada-flavored jelly and candy."
Tue, 30 Aug 2005
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2005 Chicago Tribune Company