The Candy-Flavored Drugs Myth Is Making The Rounds Again

By Paul Gaita 04/05/17

A new bill aims to stop meth from being packaged like candy, but there is no evidence to suggest that such products exist.

Close-up of a child eating green rock candy.

It's a scary scenario for parents and law enforcement officials alike: hardcore narcotics flavored with, or packaged to look like, candy to appeal to children.

A new bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate seeks to fight this threat by increasing criminal penalties for individuals caught manufacturing, distributing or selling any controlled substance with such enhancements to a minor, with penalties of up to 20 years in prison added to their sentences.

There's just one problem: there is no credible evidence that such products, which have been the source of several outbursts of legal and parental hysteria in the past, have ever existed. 

The "Protecting Kids from Candy-Flavored Drugs Act of 2017" was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who have made three previous attempts to pass similar legislation in 2008, 2009 and 2015.

The earlier bills were drafted in response to media reports alleging that methamphetamine crystals mixed with a variety of flavors had been discovered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Nevada, and were being marketed to children under such monikers as "Strawberry Quik."

Parent groups and other organizations raised considerable alarm over the reports, despite the fact that no actual flavored meth was ever discovered; samples that were produced as evidence were colored as a result of the chemical process—think Walter White's Blue Sky on Breaking Bad—but sported no flavors beyond the bitter taste of traditional brown or white meth. According to one chemist-turned-meth-manufacturer, adding sugar flavoring to the drug would "break down the methyl group during cooking [and ruin] the batch."

The DEA attempted to counter the rising tide of reports that debunked the candy meth reports by producing a sample of crystals mixed with purple flecks with a "distinct grape candy-like odor." The sample was widely dismissed as a failed attempt to blend meth crystals mixed with a crushed, grape-flavored candy that resulted in a mess rather than a new and potent form of the drug.

The DEA and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) soon put the rumors to rest—a spokesperson for the administration said, "It's not a trend or a real problem; I think this was maybe someone with good intentions but jumped the gun"—but that wasn't enough for Feinstein and Grassley, who introduced the first draft of their bill, the Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act, in 2008.

Several news items on the bill have also noted that the drug most likely to be impacted by Feinstein and Grassley's efforts is not meth, but marijuana. Language in the bill lists "candy laced with THC" among the products being manufactured by dealers for sale and consumption by children.

Candy items containing THC are sold at legal cannabis stores in Colorado, Nevada and California, among other locations. And while efforts should be maintained to keep these items out of the hands of children, Feinstein and Grassley cite no concrete evidence that there is any uptick of such situations. In Colorado, marijuana consumption among children has not changed since legalization. Feinstein has also been an outspoken opponent of legalized marijuana in her state.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.