A 63-year-old man and 53-year-old woman were arrested after Winnipeg police allege they handed out cannabis candies to trick-or-treaters on Monday.
Over a dozen reports about the candies came from a small area in the south Tuxedo neighbourhood, the Winnipeg Police Service said in a Wednesday news release. The children who received the candies ranged from six to 16 years of age.
"I'm upset that it happened, as a parent," Winnipeg police spokesperson Const. Dani McKinnon said at a news conference Wednesday. "As a police officer, unfortunately, I'm not surprised."
The cannabis edibles were all found inside zipped sandwich bags along with full-size chocolate bars, and were packaged to look like the popular Nerds candy, police say.
The packages say they contain 600 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main psychoactive property of marijuana. The maximum THC amount for edibles in Canada is 10 milligrams per package.
Testing the candies for THC will take a while, but investigators believe the candies are THC gummies and appear to be "exact replicas" of the popular Nerds rope candies, McKinnon said. More parents are expected to report receiving them.
There have been no reports of harm to children who got the candies, McKinnon said.
WATCH | Winnipeg police Const. Dani McKinnon gives update on arrests:
Investigators believe no one was intentionally targeted but the motive behind giving the candies out is still unknown, she said.
The man and woman now accused were arrested after police searched a home near the south end of Coleraine Crescent, Wednesday's news release said.
They are expected to face 13 counts each of distributing cannabis to minors, distributing illegal cannabis, causing bodily harm by negligence and administering a noxious thing with the intent of endangering life.
Both of the accused were released on a promise to appear in court.
Remain vigilant: law prof
Eugene Oscapella, a criminal justice professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in illicit drug policy and law, said it's difficult to say why someone would give cannabis candies to children.
"Normally people sell drugs on the illegal market to make money," he told Radio-Canada on Wednesday. "It may just be people just wanting to cause trouble."
There are extensive regulations in the Cannabis Act that prohibit packaging or labels that would make cannabis products attractive to young people, such as colourful wrapping, Oscapella said.
Legal cannabis suppliers who violate those provisions can face fines up to $5 million and three years in jail, he said. Illegal suppliers who do the same could potentially face 14 years of jail time.
"Clearly, those were not legal products.… That is an illegal product that was purchased from an unregulated, unlicensed, illicit source," said Trina Fraser, partner at Brazeau Seller Law in Ottawa.
If the THC candies were given out accidentally, Fraser doubts the same mix-up would have happened if they had been products legally purchased in Canada, due to the stringent packing requirements.
"There's no mistaking those packages for candy," she told CBC on Wednesday. The edibles would have contained multiple warnings and child-resistant packaging if they were legally purchased in Canada, she said.
Fake packaging to make drugs attractive to young people is more of a concern when it comes to fentanyl, said Oscapella, and resources to combat that issue are already being stretched thin in Canada.
Winnipeg police did not comment on where they think the candies may have been purchased or manufactured, but Oscapella says it's easy to buy illegal and highly potent cannabis edibles — like the ones distributed in Winnipeg — online in Canada.
In Richmond, B.C., an 11-year-old was hospitalized and later released after consuming a similar THC candy they got in their Halloween treats on Monday, RCMP there said Tuesday.
No similar reports have been made in Richmond, and police say this is likely an isolated incident.
Oscapella says since the substance is unlikely to kill someone, catching people who sell illegal cannabis online is not generally a high priority for police.
But "there will always be an illegal market" for cannabis, he said, adding that parents should remain vigilant.
Sharp object found in chocolate bar: police
Police said so far, four packages of the THC candies have been recovered as police spoke to impacted families. Investigators intend to speak with more people and may recover additional packages of the candy, the news release said.
"What I can say is that I'm really glad that the community worked so quickly," McKinnon said at Wednesday's news conference, and social media had a positive effect in this case.
WATCH | Police credit social media for help in edibles case:
Winnipeg parent Jocelyn Cordeiro posted about the candies on social media Monday to warn other parents about the edibles. She was horrified when her nine-year-old daughter found one of the packages of THC candy in her Halloween bag on Monday night.
"It just looked like a package of candy," she told CBC on Tuesday.
Police also received one report of a sharp object found inside a small chocolate bar in North Kildonan, McKinnon said Wednesday.
The incident is unrelated to the THC candies, she said, but a good reminder for parents to check their kids' Halloween treats.
"Every year, unfortunately, the police service does receive one or two reports similar to this."