How One Pro-Pot Activist Punked an Anti-Pot Crusader by Stealing His Gummy Bears

The 'edibles' Kevin Sabet brought to a Question 4 forum were phony, he says, and he has the lab results to prove it.

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Pro-marijuana activist Keith Saunders says he swiped two bags of gummy candy—which anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet had told audience members were laced with THC—in Boston.

At just the right moment, he pulled them out of his jacket pockets: two plastic bags of brightly-colored candy. One bag, anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet said to the crowd at UMass Boston on Sept 21 for a forum on legalization, contained candy laced with THC, the drug’s psychoactive component. The other did not.

“One of them is real and one of them isn’t,” Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida, said at the hearing. He added: “And there’s no way to tell the difference.”

Passage of Question 4 in Massachusetts would legalize marijuana for recreational use and permit the sale of edible THC-laden products in stores. Sabet was making the point that children might mistake the treats for candy, and ingest THC by mistake.

Here is what he said while speaking as part of a panel (you can watch a video of it here):

I brought some props if that’s OK. I think parents should ask themselves whether they can tell which bag of candy here is marijuana, and which one isn’t. … If you can’t tell, which you probably can’t, I bet your kid can’t tell either. … Again, one of them is real, one of them isn’t. They are the real candy here, simply sprayed with THC, and there’s no way to tell the difference, and that’s what Massachusetts voters are voting on.

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Kevin Sabet at the Question 4 forum in September. Photo via WGBH video.

Done making his point, he set the “edibles” down. And then, an hour later, they were gone—swiped while he wasn’t looking. “Someone stole the edibles,” he is reported to have said.

Except, of course, they weren’t marijuana edibles. They were just candy. And now, thanks to one very daring pro-pot activist, we know that for sure.

Writing in Dig Boston, Keith Saunders, the radio host, sociology professor, and self-described “Most Dangerous Stoner in America,” says that he was the one who lifted the candies. And now, two weeks later, he can confirm with science that they are in fact made only of sugar:

After he abandoned his “dangerous” substance for a couple minutes—plenty long enough for a child to get into the bags and eat a handful—I decided to secure those candies, and to bring them for THC testing in a Massachusetts lab. … [T]he lab test results showed that Sabet’s candy contained no detectable amount of cannabinoids. In other words, he was lying.

Case: closed.

Sabet, however, argues he’s been up front about the true nature of the candies all along.

“No, of course they weren’t real,” he writes in an email to Boston. “I told Fox News that they weren’t that very night. I was making a point that you can’t tell the difference between real and fake pot edibles—and if someone from [the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws] couldn’t tell the difference and had to steal them to find out, I think the point was made pretty well.”

He also says he thought calling the gummies “props” was a clear indication to the audience that they were not actually laced with drugs.

But the candy-testing stunt is the dramatic conclusion to what, for Saunders and others in the pro-legalization community, had been the perfect opportunity to needle one of marijuana’s staunchest and most in-demand critics, who they accuse of stretching the facts and being a poster boy for the War on Drugs.

Sabet, who has advised the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations on drug policy, now heads an organization called Smart Approaches to Marijuana and has been a major voice in anti-legalization efforts around the country. Salon once called him the “quarterback of the new anti-drug movement.” On its 2013 list of “Legalization’s Biggest Enemies,” Rolling Stone put Sabet at the very top.

So punking Sabet, and then mocking the man with his own gummy bears, gave Saunders something like folk hero status in the insular and always-chattering pro-pot blogosphere.

“ is asking for your help in identifying this man who swiped pot-hater Kevin Sabet’s gummy bears,” reads one image macro posted online, “to thank him for proving Sabet’s a liar.”

And the taunts kept coming. In a video riffing on the candy affair, Saunders holds up two plastic cups: one containing water, the other vodka. Could he tell the difference?

“I challenge Kevin Sabet,” he says. “Which one of these has the lethal poison?”

There was a hashtag: #GummyGate. Or, alternately, #SabetGummyGate.

In a video recorded the day after he swiped the gummies, and long before the test results came in, Saunders can be seen holding the bags of candy in the air. Either Sabet was telling the truth, and had illegally obtained or transported the drugs, he proclaims, or Sabet was making it up (which, Saunders argued, could also be a crime under state statute on counterfeit substances). He is triumphant.

“Hey Kevin,” he says to the camera, a grin stretching across his face. “Welcome to Massachusetts.”

While this case stands out, Sabet says he’s used to this sort of thing.

“Look, I don’t put it past the people who want to make a lot of money if this gets legal to do any shenanigans, and I thought it was embarrassing for the ‘Yes’ campaign,” he says in a follow-up interview. (For the record, Yes on 4 spokesman Jim Borghesani says his campaign “had nothing to do with” the candy theft or the trolling campaign. “We didn’t even know about it until a reporter told us.”)

In fact, Sabet says on the phone, en route to another substance abuse conference in Atlanta, all this attention brought to edible marijuana may actually backfire for those who want to convince voters to legalize the drug.

“Frankly, the more [the pro-pot community] wants to talk about edibles, the better,” Sabet says.