Winnipeg police warn of cannabis candy amid Halloween treats

Cannabis candies — pre-packaged along with regular chocolate bars in zipped plastic baggies — were found in at least a half-dozen stashes of Halloween treats collected by children in Winnipeg’s South Tuxedo neighbourhood.

The Winnipeg Police Service is warning families to inspect their trick-or-treat collections for any “Medicated Nerds,” THC edibles packaged in branding that imitates a popular confectionery brand and is illegal in Canada.

In a public advisory Tuesday, police confirmed a minimum of six reports about the product were made to authorities between the evening of Oct. 31 and morning of Nov. 1.

A map provided by officials shows the reported items are all connected to a residential area located near the intersection of Grant Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard.

“For all intents and purposes, without reading the writing on the label, it looks like a children’s candy,” said Jason Crosby, a parent who found and reported the packaged edibles to police. “It is extremely disturbing.”

Each colourful bag seized states the candy contains 600 milligrams of THC, the main psychoactive substance found in cannabis that makes users feel high and can cause harm to children when consumed.

Const. Dani McKinnon indicated there have been no reports of children consuming these products to date. WPS major crimes unit is investigating the matter.

“We’re treating it as a serious incident and we’re treating it as if it is actually a cannabis substance that’s been distributed to children,” McKinnon, a public information officer, said during a news conference.

The spokeswoman said the product will have to be tested. For now, she urged anyone who finds a suspicious item to both call police and use gloves to pick up the package so it can be set aside until it is seized.

Citing the early stage of the investigation, police declined to comment on a motive or potential charges.

Crosby was among the chaperones who went out with his oldest child, who dressed up as a plague doctor, and the 12-year-old boy’s three friends on Halloween.

Upon their return home, the father said he was alerted by another parent about the questionable candy, and dumped his son’s sack of treats onto the dining table to examine them.

Kim Wlodarczyk said her heart sank and she was in disbelief when her husband shared the information. The mother of two said their son also could not comprehend why someone would give him “medicine,” and they have since had an age-appropriate conversation about the problematic incident and THC.

The family planned to retrace the boy’s steps 24 hours later to pinpoint the residence where the items were distributed.

Police provided images of two packages, one pink (which is what Crosby found) and one green, that state they are “super potent” and there is a “60-minute activation time.”

An image of a third flavour of the “rope bites” candy, identified as strawberry, has made the rounds on social media.

Canadian regulations require every legal cannabis product be sold in both plain packaging and labeling “that is child-resistant.”

Health warning messages, a standardized cannabis symbol, and a provincial or territorial-specific excise stamp are also mandatory elements on wrappers.

A team of researchers from the University of Calgary’s psychology department concluded plain cannabis packaging with prominent health warnings effectively made the drug less appealing to young users in an experiment they conducted in late 2017.

Psychology Prof. David Hodgins, who co-authored a paper on the findings, called the distribution of edibles to Winnipeg children “appalling.”

“Cannabis overdose rates among adolescents are rising. This is exactly the purpose of legalization — to ensure that cannabis is appropriately marketed only to adults with clear health warnings,” Hodgins wrote in an email Tuesday.

The front of the bags handed out on Halloween do not have the warning labels normally seen on cannabis products sold in government-regulated Manitoba stores. All three state they are solely for medical use.

“Whether it was negligence or on purpose — it is very, very dangerous… This could’ve been a really big tragedy,” said Siyao Sun, a mother and pharmacist who found cannabis candy in one of her kids’ Halloween candy.

Sun said a child could have easily ingested a whole package in one sitting.

Winnipeg cannabis chef Allan Pineda said every individual is different, but some users start to feel the effects of THC after ingesting only 10 or 20 mg.

Regardless of the potency, Pineda added, edibles must be stored far away from children.

The product in question appears to be a black-market item, he said, adding he is skeptical of the distributor’s motive and whether someone is trying to “demonize the (legal cannabis) industry” because such edibles are not cheap.

A single “Medicated Nerds” package is listed on several websites at a price tag of $25.

The Pembina Trails School Division sent K-12 leaders a notice about the situation to raise awareness among families. The division, which encompasses the South Tuxedo community, also alerted caregivers via social media.

Anyone with information about the matter is asked to contact police investigators at 204-986-6219.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press