Virginia AG threatens crackdown on ‘copycat’ THC edibles

By: - June 22, 2022 2:59 pm

Attorney General Jason Miyares displayed a bin of THC edible products from Virginia stores. Experts say the products have caused a spike in poison control calls involving young children and teens. (Photo by Graham Moomaw)

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares says his office is planning to crack down on “copycat” THC edibles made to look like popular snack and candy brands, saying the colorful, cartoonish packaging poses a clear threat to children who may not know what they’re eating.

At a news conference in Richmond Wednesday, Miyares held up two nearly identical bags of Funyuns — one with the real “onion flavored rings” and one with subtle cannabis leaves on the package and “medicated” above the logo — to show how hard it can be to tell them apart.

“Remind yourselves of what happened when we criticized tobacco companies for so much as using Joe Camel in tobacco advertising,” Miyares said. “Think about that, and now look at what you have here.”

“One of these is an absolute legitimate snack you can buy at any 7-11 or convenience store,” Attorney General Jason Miyares said. “Another one of these is a THC illegal copycat of that same product.” (Graham Moomaw/ Virginia Mercury)

The attorney general’s office displayed a bin of similar intoxicating snacks, saying all of them will be outlawed come July 1 due to a provision in the new state budget that bans the sale of THC products in packaging designed to resemble protected trademarks, as well as ostensibly child-friendly products shaped like people, animals, vehicles or fruit.

“If you’re selling this garbage in your stores, it’s not worth it,” Miyares said. “After July 1 my office is coming after you.”

Marijuana remains illegal to sell in Virginia, but experts and lawmakers have raised concerns that the state has been slow to get a handle on rampant sales of mislabeled and unregulated products.

A Stafford County day care owner was charged with cruelty and injury to children in April after three toddlers allegedly ate THC-laced goldfish crackers. Stafford County Sheriff David P. Decatur attended the news conference with Miyares but declined to discuss the case in detail, saying only that he believed the case resulted from an adult “inadvertently” giving the children the intoxicating crackers.

Asked what specifically the state plans to do if it receives information about illegal products being sold, Miyares said his office will send the seller a legal notice and potentially take them to court, with the goal of “making the cost of doing business so high” the illegal sales stop.

Miyares said he’ll consider seeking additional resources, possibly full-time investigators focused solely on THC products, from the General Assembly next year. He also announced he had helped spearhead a bipartisan letter with 21 other attorneys generals asking for federal action to enable companies who hold the trademarks to go after “malicious actors who are using those marks to market illicit copycat THC edibles to children.”

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert warning about the dangers THC edibles that mimic popular brands pose to children. The alert noted the National Poison Control Centers received 10,448 exposure cases involving THC edibles, with 77 percent of them involving patients under the age of 20.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.