Young people are extremely vulnerable to marijuana addiction, especially if they start using it prior to 14.”
While cleaning up around their Rumson home last month, the parents of a 12-year-old boy found something odd between the couch cushions — a half-eaten candy bar with a picture of a marijuana leaf on the wrapper.
Their confusion quickly turned to concern, officials said, when their son admitted to eating a portion of the loaded treat.
The boy was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for lethargy and high blood pressure, according to the state’s poison control center.
That story ended without serious injury, but police leaders and medical experts say it is indicative of a troublesome trend, as more people are beginning to find new — and potentially dangerous — ways to ingest marijuana.
As the fight to legalize the drug here and across the country continues, New Jerseyans are passing on the blunts and bowls of old and instead seeking out pot candies and wax pastes that contain concentrated doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. Dubbed “jollies” and “budder,” the substances have been linked to several house fires and other incidents in New Jersey, police and experts said.
Add two recent deaths connected to edible pot in Colorado, and officials say it’s enough to stoke new criticism about the purported harmless nature of marijuana.
“Looking at the media from the surrounding states, it may only be a matter of time until that starts accelerating, and that’s very dangerous because there are kids who could be accidentally dosed in the home,” said Capt. Stephen Jones, a State Police spokesman.
Pot candies and wax marijuana, both of which provide users with a high dosage of THC, are nothing new on the national drug scene. But Jones and Bruce Ruck, director of drug information and professional education at the state poison control center, say the substances only began showing up in New Jersey in recent months.
The “jollies,” which closely resemble Jolly Rancher candies, have been spotted in Ocean County. Samples have also been reported to the State Police forensics lab and the poison control center, but most experts believe the drug has likely spread further.
Despite the concerns of police, legalization advocates say their availability here actually strengthens the argument for a state-regulated pot market, modeled after those in Washington and Colorado.
“This is one of the good reasons to legalize it,” said state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who introduced a bill to legalize marijuana in New Jersey earlier this year. “So we can tax it, regulate it and take it out from the underground.”
The danger of “jollies” lies in their appearance, police say. Each candy possesses a high dose of THC that is meant for adults to ingest in smaller pieces, but unaware children are likely to swallow it whole.
“Budder” is created by coating dried marijuana leaves with the flammable solvent, butane, to yield an oil that is nearly pure THC, said Ruck. The oil can then be heated into a paste and smoked, but the process to create it has been linked to several fires, he said.
Both the State Police and poison control have come across “budder,” and Hudson County prosecutors seized 200 containers of the wax last year.
These incidents have reignited concerns among conservatives that pot is not the harmless recreational drug many supporters paint it. Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly said he would veto any bill that makes it legal to use marijuana here.
“What makes the ‘jolly’ most troubling is that it appears to be marketed to young people,” said Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns. “Young people are extremely vulnerable to marijuana addiction, especially if they start using it prior to 14.”
Opponents of legalization have also pointed to two violent deaths in Colorado that were linked to edible marijuana. A man who ate pot candies, and possibly other drugs, was accused of killing his wife shortly after ingesting it in Denver last month. A college student from Wyoming also leapt to his death from a balcony in Denver earlier this year after ingesting six times what is considered safe of marijuana-laced cookies.
But those are isolated incidents, advocates say.
The fact that it is illegal won’t stop people who want to cook up the candies and wax at home, they say, but regulation might make it safer.
“Any substance, if it’s abused in some way … bad things can happen. They’re a lot less likely to happen if something is legalized and controlled and regulated,” said Roseanne Scotti, executive director of the state’s Drug Policy Alliance. “Because then somebody isn’t going to buy some shadowy substance from the street, they’re going to buy it from a respected distributor.”
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