CHICAGO - As lawmakers crack down on the sale of marijuana-flavored lollipops, another debate is raging between their manufacturers and hemp product advocates over what is in the candy.
Hemp advocates say the candymakers aren't being honest about what's in their confection and that publicity is hurting the sale of legal hemp products, made from a variety of the cannabis plant.
Chicago's City Council and Suffolk County, N.Y., have passed laws banning the sale of marijuana-flavored candies. Lawmakers in Michigan, New Jersey and New York also have introduced legislation to ban or control the candies.
California-based Chronic Candy advertises that every lick of its candy is "like taking a hit." The company, though, says the candies contain only hemp oil, a common ingredient in health food and beauty supplies.
"There is nothing illegal in our ingredients and they are ingredients that are in most hard candy in the United States," said Tom Durkin, a Chicago attorney who represents Chronic Candy.
Though they have no proof, hemp advocates say the candies contain cannabis flower essential oil, which they say is distilled from the flowers of the cannabis plant. That, they say, is illegal.
Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said cannabis flower essential oil would be illegal if it contains tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC, which is the illegal substance in marijuana, but he said he did not know whether it did.
Hemp oil has a nutty flavor, said Adam Eidinger, spokesman for Vote Hemp, an advocacy arm of the hemp industry. "It tastes nothing like these lollipops," he said. "These lollipops taste and smell like marijuana."
Hemp has only a trace of THC, he said. It cannot be legally grown in the United States without a permit from the DEA, he said.
Hemp supporters acknowledge they cannot prove their claim about what's in the lollipops and neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration nor the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have tested the candies to determine their ingredients.
George Pauli, an associate director in the Office of Food Additive Safety at the FDA, said ingredients used in food and candy have to be approved generically by the FDA or be recognized as safe by scientists. Manufacturers are not required to register their formulas or ingredient lists.
Payne said the DEA probably will test the lollipops in the future.
While the debate over the lollipops' ingredients continues, states and cities across the country already are acting.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has issued a subpoena seeking information on the advertising and marketing practices of Chronic Candy.
"Just because something isn't illegal doesn't make it right. These are lollipops that are clearly targeted at kids," Madigan said. "As parents, you spend an enormous amount of time and energy saying to kids, "Don't smoke, don't drink, don't do drugs.' Anything the glamorizes or lures them into these destructive behaviors shouldn't be promoted."