First: Fentanyl is a real thing, and it’s cataclysmic.
The opiate epidemic was never good, but it has become far worse and far more deadly since drug suppliers turned to fentanyl for raw material. The synthetic opiate, designed to relieve the intractable pain of terminal cancer patients and grant them a few suffering-free days or hours at the end of their lives, is prematurely ending tens of thousands more. About a third of the 64,000 people dead from drug overdoses in 2016 were killed by synthetic opiates like fentanyl and analogues that are even more powerful.
Ridiculously easy and cheap to acquire via dark-web drug marketplaces, fentanyl is turning up in bags of purported heroin, in ersatz pills claiming to be Oxycontin or completely different drugs like Xanax—and it’s also popping up in stimulants sold on the street like methamphetamine and crack.
(Authorities like to blame clandestine labs in China for flooding American communities with this killer, a gross example of 21st-century orientalism that absolves the Americans buying and distributing the drug and the American authorities seemingly incapable of doing anything about it.)
One place you will absolutely not find fentanyl, and where it has not been detected, is in marijuana—despite claims made by top health officials in Ohio, in the presence of a U.S. senator.
High Times has attempted to lay this matter to rest before. Even the DEA has publicly stated that it is unaware of fentanyl-laced cannabis.
In case that’s not enough to persuade, the master debunkers at Snopes have added their voice to the chorus, confirming that fentanyl-laced marijuana is not a real thing. It is faker than the most fake of fake news, less real than a Hillary Clinton-focused Facebook account based in Eastern Europe.
How the Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Myth Started
As Snopes sussed out, this fishy story began in February, when the Facebook page of a small-town fire department in Ohio posted a confusing-yet-ominous warning: At least three people had to be resuscitated. The “common denominator,” the authorities said, was “marijuana laced with an unknown opiate.”
This particular first draft of history was completely misleading.
After the smallest bit of scrutiny—some may call it “the most basic and absolutely standard due diligence”—it turned out that the individuals in question did in fact OD on opiates. In a grudging half-apology, the fire department defended its alarmism on warning about “possible tainted marijuana based on the best interest of our community.”
No matter—the race to the bottom was on.
Similar reports emerged from Massachusetts and from Canada, where a similar set of circumstances—drug users recovering from an overdose, falsely claiming to be users of marijuana and not opiates—saw authorities rushing to a similar conclusion.
In this instance, however, health and law enforcement had a useful idiot in a credulous local media, which repeated their claims without much in the way of scrutiny or skepticism. A correction was posted once the questionable cannabis was tested and turned up opiate-free—”This version has been updated for clarity”—but the viral damage had already been done.
The Man Responsible for Fueling the Fentanyl-Laced Fake News
Even then, it might have been contained were it not for Rob Portman. No single person is more responsible for fueling this unnecessary wildfire of specious nonsense than Portman, the Republican who represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate.
It was Portman who told Hamilton County Ohio Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco that fentanyl had turned up in cannabis in the state, which is working to launch a medical marijuana program. Portman left it to Sammarco to make the claim in public—a claim she later backed away from, after it had made a lasting first impression in the news cycle—along with the messaging that would be repeated time and again by other jurisdictions: “If you buy any kind of street drug, you can count on a synthetic opiate mixed in.”
The “logic” applied here is simply appalling.
Assume, solely because a drug is sold on the street, that it’s laced with fentanyl—and go bleating to the media about it, who so dutifully repeat whatever authorities tell them as infallible gospel. And while you’re at it, suck what limited air there is in the room away from the real news, backed by research, that cannabis availability has shown to reduce reliance on opiates and cut down on fatal overdoses.
Almost as bad, however, is the cheerful, guileless willingness with which these stories were swallowed up whole and then regurgitated by the press. News reports should have included a basic disclaimer, like the one Snopes came up with after investigating each mention of fentanyl-laced weed and discovering how quickly it folded under the slightest scrutiny.
“There have been no confirmed incidents in which fentanyl has ever been conclusively detected in marijuana samples,” the website wrote.
It is depressing and cynical, but it seems clear that the usual suspects with longstanding, unsettled scores against cannabis—the same political-law enforcement apparatus that continues to make life difficult for the plant and its adherents—was willing to use the fentanyl crisis as a tool in the ancient war on weed. This shows just how deeply ingrained authorities’ fear and loathing of cannabis goes—and how easily they’ll stoop lower than ever before to stoke it.