As the opioid overdose crisis ravages America, drug warriors are eager to tie that carnage to the increasing acceptance of legalized marijuana, usually by invoking the long-debunked gateway drug theory.
But some, including Ohio Senator Rob Portman, take a more direct approach and claim that the deadly addictive opioids can be found in marijuana, as he said last week on the Senate floor.
With regard to fentanyl, very little bit, a few flakes of it can kill you. It’s incredibly powerful. It’s considered to be 50 times more powerful than heroin. It’s cheap, it’s easily accessible, and it can be spread to other drugs, which is increasingly happening. We’re told by law enforcement it’s being used now with cocaine, even some cases marijuana. Certainly, it’s being packaged into pills that makes it look like a prescription drug when it’s really fentanyl laced.
This isn’t the first time Sen. Portman has made this claim. Back in March of 2017, Portman was making the same claim that cops were telling him that fentanyl-laced marijuana is a thing.
What’s driving the growth of this epidemic is the increasing use of fentanyl. Drug traffickers are lacing other drugs with it. I was told by the DART Task Force in Toledo that they’re actually sprinkling fentanyl in marijuana now, and people are showing up in the emergency room and overdosing on marijuana because it’s sprinkled with fentanyl. It’s more addictive, so the traffickers like it. It’s more deadly, so we need to fight back.
The only problem for Senator Portman is that this fentanyl-laced marijuana epidemic does not exist.
What Dealer Would Waste Fentanyl on Pot?
First, it doesn’t pass the common sense test. People smoke weed because they don’t want to use a dangerous, addictive, knock-you-on-your-ass drug, they just want a mellow high. The first time they’d sample some opioid-laced weed and get way too knocked out, they’d not want to buy that weed again.
The first time they hear of one of their friends dying after smoking some of that weed would be the beginning of the end of customers for that weed dealer.
Also, what’s the profit motive for the dealer? According to DEA Spokesman Russ Baer, it costs $3,000 to $4,000 to produce a kilo of fentanyl. “That one kilo of fentanyl can produce between 16 and 24 kilos [of drug product], ultimately yielding profits of $1.3 million after it’s sold on the streets,” Baer said. “It’s more lucrative than heroin.”
As Baer further explained, a kilo can produce more than 650,000 2-milligram-dosage pills that sell for $20-$30 each.
One kilo of illegal quality indoor cannabis, meanwhile, costs about $500 to produce and produces 280 eighth-ounces that sell for about $40 on the streets, for a profit of about $11,000.
So, why is the dealer going throw away $20-$30 of almost pure profit into a bag of weed that already has a low profit margin? Why is he going to abandon a potential $1.3 million payday to build customer demand for an $11,000 payday?
Even in March of 2017, Portman had no excuse for believing the fentanyl-laced marijuana myth. It was exactly one year ago today that this Ohio urban legend was debunked, just four days after it had been concocted.
Tracing Ohio’s Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Myth
On February 9, 2017, Cleveland.com reported that “Three people overdosed within a 12-hour period after smoking marijuana laced with an unknown opiate, the Painesville Township Fire Department said.”
On February 13, 2017, the paper had to issue a correction after the fire department reported on Facebook that, “Lab tests confirmed that the marijuana seized during three separate overdose investigations was not laced with an opiate such as heroin or fentanyl.”
That should have been the end of it, but for Sen. Portman reviving the myth on the floor of the Senate last March.
Portman claimed to have heard it from the Toledo cops, but when Tom Angell followed up on that lead, Lt. Bobby Chromik of the Lucas County DART told him, “I personally have not heard” of marijuana being laced with fentanyl in the county. “That stuff is usually reported directly to me.”
On June 19, 2017, Sen. Portman was again promoting the fentanyl-laced marijuana myth, standing alongside Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco at a press conference. “We have seen fentanyl mixed with cocaine, we have also seen fentanyl mixed with marijuana,” Sammarco said.
When asked at the press conference for a count of how many such cases she’s dealt with, however, she could not specify. When she was later contacted by VICE, Sammarco said that her quote had been unfortunately misinterpreted and that her office hasn’t seen fentanyl-laced weed at all. According to VICE, she was just reporting what Sen. Portman had told her.
But as Jonathan Swift once observed, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.”
Fentanyl Myth Seems to Have Originated in Vancouver, BC
The first report I can find about the fentanyl-laced marijuana myth was from a press conference from December 14, 2015. The Province reported that “Vancouver Police Constable Sandra Glendinning said they are now finding fentanyl turning up in batches of seized marijuana. Glendinning could not say if any fatal deaths in Vancouver were due to pot laced with fentanyl. But she insisted that ‘absolutely’ police are seeing fentanyl in marijuana.”
By November 17, 2016, British Columbia’s Premier Christy Clark appeared at a news conference reported by CTV News, saying, “Regulating marijuana is even more important now, when we’re finding fentanyl in marijuana. Vancouver police did a major seizure,” referring to the 2015 statements from Glendinning.
CBC News followed up on a years’ worth of fentanyl-laced marijuana rumors between December 2015 and November 2016.
“I can’t speak for other police departments and I can’t say that fentanyl has not, is not, or couldn’t be placed in marijuana, but I can tell you the VPD has not seized marijuana that has been tested and shown to be laced with fentanyl,” said Vancouver Police Constable Brian Montague on November 18, 2016.
“We cannot confirm any deaths that fit this pattern, and aren’t aware of any,” said BC Coroners Service spokesperson Barb McLintock.
“There is no official confirmation of any cases to date,” said BC Ministry of Health spokesperson Lori Cascaden.
Fatally-Flawed Field Testing, Fibs to First Responders, Feed Fentanyl Falsehoods
By September 22, 2017, the fentanyl-laced marijuana myth surfaced again in the Pacific Northwest. Peninsula Daily News reported that, “The Makah Tribal Police Department is warning the public that officers believe they found fentanyl-laced marijuana during a recent arrest.”
Just like the initial Ohio story in February, a correction came soon after. On October 1, 2017, the paper reported, “Seized marijuana that was suspected of being laced with fentanyl did not contain the powerful synthetic opioid.”
The report went on to note that the DEA’s Seattle Field Division, which covers the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, had not seized any fentanyl-laced marijuana.
The initial false report came from officers performing the same kind of highly-flawed drug field tests that once landed one innocent civilian in trouble for possession of a Krispy Kreme crumb that had tested positive as methamphetamine.
The myth also gains traction because overdose victims sometimes lie. Claiming one has only smoked marijuana is admitting to a slap-on-the-wrist crime in many jurisdictions, like British Columbia, but copping to using heroin can bring greater punishment.
“We have even had individuals present with opioid overdose symptoms that have claimed they have only consumed marijuana,” said RCMP’s Cpl. Janelle Shoilet in the CBC News story. “However, we have never seized or confirmed via chemical analysis any marijuana laced with or contaminated with fentanyl.”
That was the case in the initial Painesville Township story that got Sen. Portman started on the fentanyl-laced marijuana myth. As it turned out, the people in question had been using crack cocaine and other drugs and, what do you know, weren’t being honest with first responders.
Though Proven False For Two Years, “It’s a Near Inevitability”
In October of 2017, former DEA agent Neil Morganstern was on TV in Tennessee claiming, “One of the things I want to get out and have students know is right here in the state of Tennessee, we’ve had incidents of marijuana laced with fentanyl.”
But when WBIR-10 News followed up on the claim, they found no evidence of it being true. Not only had none of the three state crime labs in Tennessee ever found fentanyl-laced marijuana, but also “DEA Resident Agent in Charge Michael Sarhatt said that no DEA labs have found it nationwide either.”
But just because over two years of claiming there’s a flood of fentanyl-laced marijuana waiting to be unleashed on our nation’s children hasn’t made it come true, that doesn’t mean drug warriors are going to stop making the scary claim.
Both [former DEA agent] Morganstern and [DEA agent] Sarhatt expressed concerns that marijuana laced with fentanyl could prove to be a deadly combination. Fentanyl can kill in extremely small doses, and they worry someone smoking laced marijuana could unknowingly overdose very quickly.
“It’s totally feasible that you could lace marijuana with fentanyl,” said Sarhatt.
Both men believe it’s a near inevitability that laced marijuana will come to East Tennessee, and are very concerned.
“It takes such a minute amount to kill somebody, I don’t know how else to say it,” said Sarhatt. “We are deathly afraid of that ending up in any drug, whether it’s heroine [sic], cocaine, marijuana – it doesn’t matter.”
He said when it does come to East Tennessee, it will be evident. In a recent survey of Knox County Schools students, one in five admitted to using marijuana in the 30 days prior.
“The immediate impact is people are going to start dying,” said Sarhatt. “Kids are going to start dying … at some point, we’re going to start losing kids.”
My God, won’t somebody please think of the children?!? How will we ever protect them from this drug scourge that has never been proven to happen? I guess we’ll get by the same way we survive the marijuana-laced Halloween candy that never happens every October.