Update: This post has been updated to include further comment from the RCMP.
Nova Scotia RCMP have backpedalled after publicly stating that weed edibles can kill children.
In a news release published early Wednesday morning, and then reported on by CBC News, police said they raided an illicit weed dispensary in Timberlea, Nova Scotia May 6, seizing $60,000 in weed, including lego-shaped edibles containing up to 500 milligrams of THC. (For comparison, Health Canada wants a single dose of legal edibles to be limited to 10 mg of THC.)
The RCMP said the 500-mg dose was potent enough to kill a child—a claim that was reported unchallenged by the CBC.
“'Lego' shaped blocks of very high potency THC, in excess of 500 mg was offered for sale and this could be a fatal dose for a child,” the release said.
No one has ever died of a cannabis overdose. Rebecca Haines-Saah, a public health policy expert and professor at the University of Calgary, told VICE that while cannabis has been implicated in rare case studies where a child has died, it has never directly been linked to causing a fatality, and other issues such as respiratory or cardiac conditions have been present.
The 500-word RCMP release levies several allegations against the unregulated cannabis market, accusing those operating in it of evading taxes, lying to the public, and using “dangerous processes” used to make weed products in “unsanitary conditions.”
The release said the raided shop, Timberleaf Alternative Medical Society, was misleading the public by using the word “medical” in its name.
“This particular illegal storefront made almost one million dollars since January 1st and spent only fifty thousand dollars in expenses—all without paying any tax,” the release says. “A small number of people are making extreme profit and operating under the radar of Canada Revenue Service. Most of these profits leave Nova Scotia and don't support our local economy.”
It also takes aim at people who shop at black market dispensaries.
“If you buy cannabis from illegal sellers you are breaking the law, you are supporting organised (sic) crime and you are placing your health at risk,” the release said, noting that people who live near dispensaries are “at risk of fire bombings, robberies and the many crimes that often go along with illegal cannabis sales.”
RCMP sent out a much shorter, amended release later Wednesday that said the original release “included references and opinions that are outside of the scope of Nova Scotia RCMP. We have taken measures to address the liberties that were taken in the release and apologize for the confusion it may have caused.” In a follow-up phone call with VICE, Halifax RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Lisa Croteau said the police force is "not backtracking our claim" that edibles can kill kids.
"We’re not saying it’s true or not, we’re just saying it’s outside of our scope," she said. "It’s not a policing matter, we can’t say one way or the other what that will cause that would be more of a medical professional that would have to do those claims."
The new release is 200 words and is limited to details about the raid. It does not include any assertions about the black market at large.
Last year, a rural Ontario emergency room doctor tweeted that “edibles are often so concentrated that they can be fatal in kids.”
At the time, VICE spoke with pediatrician Bonni Goldstein, who spent more than a decade as a pediatric emergency room doctor at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California. Goldstein told VICE that while cannabis overdoses can be unpleasant, including symptoms like paranoia, anxiety, irrationality, and hallucinations, they are not fatal and that true cannabis psychosis is both rare and difficult to prove.
Goldstein, who is a pediatric cannabis specialist, said when a child is admitted to the ER because of cannabis ingestion, she typically monitors their vital signs and waits for them to wake up, if they are sleeping. Medical intervention is rarely necessary, she said.
Haines-Saah noted that the number of emergency room visits and poison control centre calls related to weed tend to spike after a jurisdiction legalizes weed in part because people are less fearful of the legal repercussions of reporting an accidental ingestion.
She noted that there are many substances in households that could kill kids if taken in high enough doses, including detergent. Proposed Health Canada regulations for legal edibles have recommended banning products that would appeal to kids.