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Weeding it out: Are those trucks in New Orleans really selling marijuana?

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – The bright green vans plastered with colorful images of marijuana, and iconic cartoon characters like Shaggy and Scooby-Doo with bloodshot eyes, and signage boasting “Over a Million Stoned” may seem out of place in a state where recreational marijuana is illegal, but for years, they’ve made a home in and around the French Quarter.

“We sell lollipops, gummies, Rice Krispie treats, brownies, popcorn – if you can eat it, we can weed it,” said Ski Scott, who was selling the products from a van in downtown New Orleans.

The vehicles are often covered with images of Pineapple Express, Gorilla Glue and Grand Daddy Purp – which are all street names for pot – so for some, it’s not much of a leap to guess what the folks in the vans and trucks are pushing.

“Dope, marijuana, you know. They’re selling marijuana,” said Jeff Conklin, who was visiting from Georgia.

With names like Trippy Treats and Space Cakes boldly describing the products on display and for sale, some people expect the stuff to get them high, but if you ask one the people who sell it, she says guess again.

“People come up all the time and ask for marijuana, but our vehicle is simply a freedom of speech, so of course they have marijuana on the vehicle,” Scott said. “No marijuana in the vehicle, no marijuana in the vehicle, no.”

But that explanation still doesn’t stick with some visitors confused by the blatant advertising that includes images of and references to a product that is illegal for recreational use in Louisiana.

“I don’t know, but it’s treating it like candy so that sort of caters to the kids. I don’t like them calling it candy. That’s just like advertising. Supposedly it was catered toward the young people,” said Don Arledge, who was visiting from Tennessee.

Still, Scott, who was actively selling brownies and Rice Krispie treats from one of the vans, claimed that’s just marketing, and the stuff inside the products is much more benign than THC-laden pot.

“It’s CBD, it’s CBD products, yeah, it’s the stuff they take out the THC. It’s real good for you, for your pain, whatever’s going on with you,” Scott said.

CBD, or cannabidiol, isn’t illegal like its cousin THC. In fact, states across the country allow sales of CBD over the counter, and it’s even for sale in stores in New Orleans.

“You know, when I saw the truck yesterday, I just thought, well this is one of the states where it’s legal,” said Dave Gabbert, who was visiting from Colorado.

It’s a perception that some think could take advantage of out-of-towners looking for weed.

“That didn’t, it didn’t cross my mind though, that it wouldn’t be real [weed],” said Cathy Gabbert from Colorado.

But we wanted to know how the people in the trucks and vans sell their product when visitors approach and when it’s not obvious a camera is rolling. So FOX 8 sent an undercover buyer with a hidden camera to see what would happen.

“Y’all got candies and stuff?” the undercover buyer asked a man sitting in a Weed World van.

“Yeah, we got candies and we got flower as well,” the Weed World salesman in the van says.

In the first interaction, FOX 8’s hidden camera captures the salesman offering “flower,” a word the DEA says is a street name for marijuana.

“So what do y’all sell, just candies?” the under-cover buyer asks.

“We sell candies, flower, I have Pineapple Express gummies, I have cotton candy gummies and I have Rice Krispie treats, and Cap’n Crunch. Rice Krispie treats and Cap’n Crunch are 80mg of THC in each treat. Those are twenty, yeah, for one Rice Krispie treat,” the Weed World Salesman said.

The salesman offers a small Rice Krispie treat packaged in a sealed bag for $20 and claims there is 80mg of THC in the product.

Dr. Kent Hutchison, a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said if in fact the treat contains 80mg of THC, that would be a much higher dose than a casual user could handle.

“Five to 10 milligrams is really the max that you would want to use. Eighty milligrams, for a lot of people, is gonna make them very uncomfortable and very unhappy,” Hutchison said.

“That’s the Rice Krispie treat, it’s 80mg of THC,” the Weed World salesman said as he showed the buyer the product.

“And I can’t buy that from you here?” the under-cover buyer asked.

“Yes! That’s the reason why we ride around with them!” the Weed World salesman said.

But according to the city, that’s just not true.

“The permit that they have does not authorize them to do any sales from any vehicles or anything on the street,” said Director of New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits Zachary Smith.

Smith said Weed World does have an occupational license to operate a brick-and-mortar store on Chartres Street in the French Quarter.

Inside that location, clerks wear white lab coats and the windows are embellished with what looks like pot plants, but any sales for their vehicles is considered a violation.

“What do you recommend I try, gummies or…” the under-cover buyer asks.

“It depends on if you’re looking to get high, or you’re looking to get medicated,” the Weed World salesman said. “I have Rice Krispie, I have Cap’n Crunch, I have brownies, too.”

“Rice Krispie treat is fine,” the under-cover buyer said.

“Twenty bucks,” the Weed World salesman said as our under-cover buyer handed him the money.

At another van parked on Bourbon Street, our undercover buyer purchased four lollipops for $20, but the saleswoman in the van insisted it only contained CBD, not THC.

The city says State Police testing of the treats and candies haven’t found illegal substances in the candy. Smith said under Mayor Latoya Cantrell, the city is cracking down on what is potentially a scam targeting tourists.

“I think there’s a little bit taking advantage of intoxicated or leaving it loosely. Fun-seeking individuals who are in town for conventions and whatnot, but it’s definitely something that I would not purchase or go after, because I know better this is $20 candy when you can go into CVS and buy it for 50 cents,” Smith said.

In fact, while the trucks are sometimes parked just feet away from NOPD units, police are aware of what could be coming out of the vehicles.

“From the NOPD side of things, since the beginning of this year they’ve made, I believe, over or close to 12 arrests or summonses for illegal sales related to marketing things as marijuana, whether or not it has THC,” Smith said.

The NOPD says since January of this year, police have made four arrests and issued 10 summonses for “no occupational license and failure to pay city taxes” to people connected to the “weed candy” sales, and one additional arrest for simple battery when a weed truck vendor allegedly struck another weed truck vendor in the face.

But even after our buyer got the $20 treat, the salesman gave him another option.

“I have 3.5 grams of weed. of smoking bud, going for $50. Yeah, that’s exactly what it is, but it’s Purple Kush,” the Weed World salesman offered as our under-cover completed the sale and walked away.

Smoking bud, lollipops, a Rice Krispie treat – all illegally offered right out of the window of at vehicle in the French Quarter. If you’ve got the cash, buyer beware.

“A twenty-dollar lollipop? Tells you it should have marijuana in it,” Conklin said before he was asked, what if the treat didn’t contain THC? “Wow, you’re ripped off. That’s a pretty expensive lollipop,” Conklin said.

We spoke with the owner of Weed World, Bilal Muhammad, who said he has fired people in the past who were caught illegally selling products and offering marijuana from their vehicles. He claimed he’s tried to keep the company’s name clear and said the people who were selling from the street will be fired and potentially arrested.

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The bright green vans plastered with colorful images of marijuana and iconic cartoon characters, like Shaggy and Scooby-Doo with blood shot eyes, and signage boasting, “Over a Million Stoned,” may seem out of place in a state where recreational marijuana is illegal.

The Weed World Fleet

As I prepared for my summer internship with 3 Generations in New York City, I was expecting to learn of new fads as I think of NYC as being at the forefront of many cutting-edge trends.

Something I was not expecting to see were fleets of trucks plastered in photographs of marijuana and edibles. If you have been to NYC or a handful of select other cities recently, you probably know what I’m talking about. There seems to be a Weed World Candies truck parked outside of every tourist attraction: the Flatiron Building, Times Square, the High Line. They’re hard to miss. They’re bright green, feature photos of cannabis plants and edibles, and are emblazoned with phrases like “Do not attempt to smoke this vehicle” and “Decriminalize and Legalize”. Below is my favorite truck design to-date. But then again, I’m partial to anything with dogs (apparently, even if one has bloodshot eyes and a joint hanging out of its mouth).

Spotted in prime Times Square territory — 7th Ave and 42nd St

With 3 Generations’ recent project regarding marijuana legalization (Pot Luck: The Altered State of Colorado) I visited a truck in the Flatiron District to learn more about Weed World Candies. As I was aware that the bill for recreational marijuana use had failed in NY earlier this year, I went up to the window assuming that these eye-catching trucks could not be selling weed this publicly and conspicuously. Surely they would have been shut down by now. I was interested to see what exactly they were selling. I thought perhaps they sold medical marijuana or marijuana-flavored food (though, I don’t think most people consume edibles for the taste).

When I asked for a menu to browse, the salesperson said there wasn’t one. He began rattling off the prices of lollipops, gummies, brownies and rice krispie treats. With each one, he also listed a quantity of milligrams. I stopped him when he claimed one of the items had 125mg in it. Here’s how I remember the conversation unfolding; I’ve added a little commentary for the sake of clarity.

Me: 125 milligrams of what?

(Fact Check: 125 mg is very strong for an edible, which is why the number piqued my interest. The recommendation is for beginners to start with a 1-2.5 mg dose. Reports say that 80 mg is too strong for even highly experienced users.)

Salesperson: THC.

(Fact Check: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive part of marijuana. It’s what gets people high.)

Me: Not CBD?

(Fact Check: CBD (cannabidiol) has the same molecular structure as THC, but it is non-psychoactive. It doesn’t get people high.)

Salesperson: Nah, this is THC. These’ll get you high.

(Fact Check: THC is only legal in New York for medicinal reasons. A patient must be registered with the New York State Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana Program to qualify for medical marijuana. Even then, they can only buy marijuana from a select number of dispensaries. Only ten organizations were registered with the Department of Health. Weed World Candies, of course, is not one of those dispensaries.)

I could feel my eyebrows inching up my forehead. I was almost too shocked to respond to his claim that he was selling THC out of a truck that had giant pictures of marijuana on the side. Finally, I managed to ask him how it was possible that he was selling what he claimed.

Salesperson: When they decriminalized weed, they made it legal for THC as long as it wasn’t in inhalable forms. *holds up his fingers to his mouth and mimes smoking a joint* Edibles, sprays, anything you can digest is legal.

(Fact Check: First and foremost, the decriminalization bill was only signed into law on July 29. This conversation took place on July 24. However, his logic is not completely unfounded. Medicinal marijuana can only be sold in certain forms in New York state. According to the Department of Health, “Under the law, smoking is not permitted and the regulations prohibit edibles.” This leaves the approved medical dispensaries to sell capsules, oil for vaping, patches, topical creams, and other approved forms. Edibles are not legal even from a medicinal standpoint.)

Perhaps he was relying on the fact that “decriminalization” had frequently been thrown around––both in the news and online––recently. Maybe he was hoping I had heard that non-smoking forms were permitted. If he truly was selling edibles that contained THC out of that truck, he would at least be responsible for a misdemeanor. If the sale was for more than 4 ounces, it would be a felony.

Me: Hmmm. Do you take credit or cash?

Salesperson: Both. We take card, cash *points down to a register full of bills*, whatever.

(Fact Check: Most credit card companies distance themselves from the cannabis industry as marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug and is consequently illegal from a federal standpoint. Visa and Mastercard have both refused to be involved in transactions involving THC. The SAFE Banking Act of 2019 bill attempts to provide alternatives to cash in the marijuana industry, but the bill has only just been introduced; without being voted on by the House or Senate yet, it is not close to being enacted. To summise, businesses that sell weed don’t accept credit cards.)

I thanked the salesperson, said I might come back later, and walked away from the truck.

Between the high dosage claim, the muddling of legalization, and the acceptance of credit cards, it seemed to me that Weed World Candies was not in fact selling weed. I found that the NYPD reported to The Post that a police-conducted field test revealed that the products contained no marijuana.

Questions began whirling around in my head: What do these candies actually contain? How many people purchase these products? Are these food items regulated at all?

To find out if other people had similar experiences with Weed World Candies, I turned to the internet where I was greeted with some of the lowest review scores I have ever seen: 1 star on Yelp and 1.5 stars on Google Reviews. The reviewers complained about being misled: “100% LIES,” “total scam,” “con artists.” They complained about the false advertising: “Contains no THC,” “no taste of weed in it,” “I felt absolutely nothing.”

Weed World Candies lists their goal as “promoting the legalization and decriminalization of the cannabis plant and all its components.” Put that way, it seems like Weed World Candies is well within their right to advocate. But I can’t help but think of the people that had similar experiences to mine.

Over 63 million tourists visit New York City per year. I happened to pick up on the salesperson’s lies because I try to stay updated on marijuana laws across the country and have become even more engaged in the conversations around legalization since working at 3 Generations. But how many visitors see the trucks and figure that NY must be the most recent state to legalize recreational use? Do they,like the Yelp reviewers, spend upwards of $50 on products that are deceptively sold?

Out of public health interest, advertising for tobacco has been highly regulated to prevent advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds. Promotions with teen audiences have been limited to black text on a white background. How many minors have been intrigued by the trucks’ bright paint job, the dog posted on the side, and the featured photos of ice cream, lollipops, and other treats?

Despite the company’s stated goal of raising awareness about legalization and decriminalization, they profit from lies and are careless about advertising. Even if the products are technically legal due to their lack of THC content, the company’s deceptive sales practices and irresponsible promotion make Weed World Candies a menace to New York City and all other cities they decide to occupy.

What is the reality vs the perception of marijuana decriminalization in NYC? Find out in this recount of an experience with Weed World Candies.