Trick or Treat? On Laced Candy and Other Drug Myths

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Beware… or don’t. 

This year, medical marijuana is on the ballot in my home state of Florida, and it’s likely to pass: the latest statewide poll shows 77 percent of Floridians support the proposed constitutional amendment.

But the remaining 33 percent aren’t taking this lying down. On Monday, some county sheriffs held a press conference ostensibly on Halloween safety. Instead, surrounded by costumed children for full effect, they warned citizens about the supposed risk of marijuana edibles being passed out to unsuspecting youth.

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Courtesy, Florida Sheriff’s Association

If you rolled your eyes, you’re not alone. Several news outlets immediately speculated that the press conference was an effort to rally anti-marijuana enthusiasm before election day. None of the law enforcement officials present could identify a prior case in the state, though they insisted the “threat” is real.

Florida parents likely have little to fear next Monday night, regardless of the imminent election results. Even in newly legal states, no one (well, no child) found a “Pot Tart” or “Zonka Bar” in their Halloween haul last year. (And, when you think about it, how many people were handing out chocolate liquor cordials before then?) Plus, the idea of adulterated candy is nothing new. Snopes identified variants of this trope, including poisoned, razor-containing, or intoxicating children’s confections, going back decades. Only a few spuriously related incidences have ever been documented, and those have little or no connection to the actual goings-on of the holiday.

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But drug myths like laced Halloween candy can be read as classic examples of folklore, or what scholars call cultural sets of beliefs shared to rationalize complex, unknown, or unknowable phenomenon. And folklorists will tell you these kinds of urban legends aren’t just for debunking. In her book on rumor in African American culture, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Black folklorist Patricia Turner related that these claims are often not representative of “typical” beliefs. Instead, they offer novel insights into “pattern[s] of thought” through “an under-studied folk tradition.”

Folklorists like Turner, Gary Alan Fine, and Jan Harold Brunvand have for decades implored us, not to question the “objective” “truth” of these ideas, but to analyze what anxieties they reveal within their constituencies. It doesn’t necessarily matter if, as some profess, the CIA introduced crack to American cities, or methadone causes cancer, or suburban stoners would divvy up their stash with neighborhood kids. But those repeated ideas, true or false, sincere or not, have real implications.

What anxieties can you identify in this case, and in our mythic drug discourse more broadly?

 

Why did the FBI stop their investigation of Straight, Incorporated?

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome a post from Marcus Chatfield, who has spent years studying Straight, Inc. Chatfield is a recent graduate of Goddard College, where he received an Individualized Bachelor of Arts degree in the prevention of institutional child abuse. His undergraduate thesis, Institutionalized Persuasion, was self-published in December, 2014. He is a prospective grad student living in Florida. Enjoy!

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The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) recently arranged for the release of documents from the FBI’s investigation of Straight, Inc., a controversial teen treatment program. An initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the author in 2010 received no response and the collection was only released after subsequent requests and inquiries by the OGIS. After the FBI reviewed more than 1,224 pages in their possession, 970 were released with redactions and 254 pages were deleted, withheld by their Record/Information Dissemination Section. Almost all of these records were accumulated between 1992 and 1994 during a Grand Jury investigation that initiated in the Middle District of Florida. The investigation focused on fraudulent financial activities within the Straight, Inc. organization and the documents clearly state that federal authorities had evidence of criminal insurance fraud committed by Straight executives (p.55). Perhaps even more important, the documents seem to indicate that the FBI’s investigation was stopped before agents had a chance to review all of the evidence or explore all relevant leads (p.109-111).

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