The Sweet Underground

When elementary and high schools ban the sale of candy and sodas, students create flourishing underground economies to satisfy demand for the sweet stuff.

In the ensuing crackdown, even high-profile figures are laid low.

For example, in Connecticut last week, an eighth-grade student body vice president was forced to resign after he was caught buying an illicit packet of Skittles from a classmate.

Is there a better way to quash the candy black market?


As a seventh grade teacher, I often find myself policing the candy and gum consumption in my classroom (especially the gum). But when one of my students recently discussed her (large) candy and gum selling operation, I applauded her entrepreneurship. Why shouldn't she make money providing legal items in high demand? Only drawback: She gets her cellphone confiscated at least every other day--but her mom always comes in to retrieve it for her, as required. Gateway to drug dealing...or to a future business career? I suspect the second. Not only is she learning business principles, but she's coming to school every day, unlike previous years, and doing very well in her classes.


If the goal is to achieve some form of student body health as part of an educator's duty as temporary parents (there's a legal term I wont bother to look up), and you really think nutrition is the problem, you'll need some way to monitor what they're eating, and a way to monitor health. They've mostly got it in PE and student lunch programs, but throwing out vending machines won't solve your problems. In fact, they're probably a critical part of accounting for the rest. And they're an opportunity to present healthy alternatives. Wouldn't it be interesting to present the balance of candy to fruit sold when given the option, or to measure student responses to marginal price changes? (Can you pay students to eat their veggies?)

Sadly, our budding politician has neither the lobbyist network or the grounding in economics to propose an alternative. And ignorance of "the law" speaks poorly of his dedication to student representation.

Although, I still wholeheartedly support a ban on corn-nuts. That stuff stinks so bad it might as well qualify as pollution.



Give them free candy or money if they do enough exercise or loose weight as appropriate.


They should legalize the candy, but tell the teachers to call the children "fat" and "stupid" any time they are seen eating the candy. That should condition them to not like candy. Plus, it will be a boon for the child psychology industry.

Peter Brady

My brother & I sold porno mags in elem. & middle school.


Now that "The Wire" has ended, maybe the writers could do a spinoff for Nickelodeon?

And Sudhir could interview school bullies to get their reactions to it.


I went to boarding school when I was 8. Candy was restricted. We had a "tuck shop", which I think was only open once a week, so whatever we bought with our minimal pocket money, had to last us. As a result, sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks all became highly desirable to me.... I'm now mid 30s and still fight junk food cravings which mean I need to lose a good 100 pounds, at the very least, to get down to a more suitable weight for my height. This may have happened anyway, even if I had gone to a day school and sweets were readily available, I can't know. I think it's less likely though.


Create a branch of the Department of Homeland security that can enlist a TSA-like organization to keep the students (and teachers) safe from the candy threat. Make room, Guantanamo Bay, the kids who buy and sell candy on school campuses all over the country are going to be adding to the waterboarding fun!

Seriously, does the school administration think it's even remotely possible to successfully enforce these policies? They should pick up a book about the wonderful success that was seen by alcohol prohibition.


When I was in high school, back in the 80's, I ran my own "candy black market". I had a few other "under the table" operations going on, but none were as profitable as candy. Mind you that I was not doing anything illegal, unless one thinks that I was operating a business without a license.

My father actually participated in this venture. His company had a membership at the Sam's Club, the wholesale industry that was relatively new at the time. So he was my supplier.

Gum was the most popular item, the most profitable, and had the best "shelf-life". I had very little competition at first, given that we did not have access to vending machines at the time, and student organizations that did fundraisings by selling candy were few and far between. Nevertheless, as what happens to all profitable operations, other students entered the business and tried to undercut my margins and take my customers.

Eventually I got out of that market. Too much competition created an increasing level of risk in that school authorities were becoming aware of what was going on. So I moved on to my next operation, running a "catered lunch service" where I'd go off campus to pick up lunch orders for students (fast food, pizza, deli, etc...). Now this operation did require some unethical practices, in that I had to write my own off-campus passes by forging signatures. Also, trying to manage all of the activity in only 45 minutes was difficult, so I ignored the speed limits too often.

The Vice Principal, who was the campus monitor, eventually caught on to my trail, though he never really caught me "with the goods" or "in the act". Nobody liked him, so the old adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" applied. If he questioned the teacher or office person whose signature I forged, he or she would cover for me -they liked me more than him.

But as the risk in that operation increased, I got into more organized efforts, such as managing student events, athletic games, etc... By the end of my tenure, I had master keys of the campus and had gained some great business skills, which were probably some of the best things I learned in public school.

There are some things I regret that took place when managing student events, and those activities did increase my sense of moral hazard. In the end, there is very little schools can do to thwart activities such as the ones in which I participated. So long as markets can be created to serve unmet needs, students will beat the system.



And Detroit thought they had a leadership problem....Skittles, unbelievable!


"There are no candy sales allowed in schools, period" says the spokesperson of Sheridan Communications and Technology Middle School.

They can't penalize the students if they GIVE the candy away. I'd open up a credit line to my friends that could pay me outside of school.

If we couldn't sell candy at my school we'd never have new sports team uniforms.


I don't understand why schools would try to police a "candy underground economy." The reason schools ban candy and soda is to offer nutritious food and beverage choices for the students; not because these snack choices are illegal or even harmful (in moderate doses). The school rules don't preclude students bringing their own food from home. Seems to me it's a waste of time to go after these students.

El Jefe

Everyone knows Skittles are a gateway candy. Pretty soon this seemingly innocuous snacker will be using pixie sticks and chasing them with Red Bull. Nip it, nip, nip it!


These kinds of rules and behaviors by those in authority will do nothing less than give our youth a healthy disrespect and skepticism for idiots in charge. And that is WONDERFUL. We are raising a new generation of rugged individualists, and that is a far better service from our government schools than we can expect.


Pulling from Predictably Irrational, they need to change the norms from market norms to social norms. The market norm in this case is that there is a specific punishment for the offenders, and each judges the risk/reward of that behavior. Creting a social norm for this behavior, such as limiting funding for elective activities for repeat offenses by anyone, makes students accountable to others and may deter "illegal" action.


I have nothing much to add, except that I love some of the comments here.

Okay, I'll add to the fun (it's so easy):

Only the kind of kid who enjoys candy would seek such a position of authority...


The rule should be that - 'taking monkey in exchange of candy is not allowed', but eating and giving people candy free is allowed.

Some what inline with a 'set a thief to catch a thief' approach.


I suggest canditory minimum sentencing (pun intended). Anyone caught with candy must be expelled from school, for the remainder of the year. Then, when the school is half-empty, the sugarless remainder will be candy free.

That's how we do it in the real world.

world traveler

#6. You forgot that we will have to work with candy enforcement agencies in Belgium and Switzerland and possibly go further up the supply chain to take out small farmers of coca (oops cocoa) in tropical regions.

Silas Russell

If we have schools treating candy like a drug, I can't help but fear developing destructive behaviors in the students. Could skittles be the next gateway drug? They seem to be treating it as such.