Senator Ties Pot To Opiates Through Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Gateway

Claims that dealers are selling fentanyl-laced marijuana originated in Vancouver around 2014

Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana
How rumors of fentanyl-laced marijuana in Kamloops became a warning by Vancouver PD that eventually led a US Senator to repeating the debunked claims

On Monday, Ohio Senator Rob Portman spoke during a hearing on the epidemic of opiate overdose affecting the nation. His comments reveal how retrograde politicians and tough-on-crime drug warriors are going to demonize recreational marijuana use by linking it to the misery caused by addictions to heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

Sen. Portman is aided by the actions of Canadian authorities who helped create and propel a rumor about fentanyl-laced marijuana to the top of North American law enforcement’s reefer madness.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Gateway Theory

First, Senator Portman invoked the long-debunked “gateway theory” when he talked about meeting a man suffering from heroin addiction whose multiple run-ins with the law can be traced back to that first joint he smoked in high school.

A couple of weeks ago, during the State work period, I held a roundtable discussion in Fremont, OH, where I met Matt Bell. Matt is an amazing guy–a charismatic, young guy. He said that for him the gateway drug was marijuana and alcohol in high school. He ended up overdosing on heroin three times. He was convicted of 13 felonies, and he went to detox 28 times. Now he is clean and preventing new addictions from taking place by working nonstop to raise public awareness about the dangers of drug use. He goes around to the schools, and he doesn’t just talk to kids who are juniors and seniors. He talks to middle schoolers because he knows he has to go younger and younger to get kids to think about their own futures, about the fact that addiction can happen in one use sometimes, and it is something that can ruin their lives.

Later, Senator Portman conjured the “drug-laced marijuana” scare that is usually reserved for warning parents about their kids’ Halloween candy. While this bit of reefer madness typically claims that pot dealers are lacing their weed with PCP, the super-potent opiate fentanyl is the culprit in this anecdote.

What is 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 are actually sprinkling fentanyl in marijuana now, and people are showing up in the emergency room and overdosing on marijuana because it is sprinkled with fentanyl. It is more addictive. So the traffickers like it. It is more deadly. So we need to fight back.

It beggars belief that underground dealers selling marijuana would endanger their customers like that. People who buy marijuana typically only buy marijuana. They are searching for a mellow high, not a sleepy narcotic. If they get a laced product, they’ll get a result they weren’t looking for and won’t buy from that dealer again, especially if that product put them in the emergency room or the grave.

Also, why would the dealer take the fentanyl he could be selling to people who are already addicted (regular customers) and lose the profit on that by adding it to marijuana?

The Great Canadian Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Rumor

Tom Angell at MassRoots took on the Senator’s claims that there is fentanyl-laced marijuana on the streets of Toledo:

Kevin Smith, Portman’s communications director, said in an email that the senator “heard this from the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office DART Unit, which he met with several weeks ago.”

But Lt. Bobby Chromik of the Lucas County DART told MassRoots in a phone interview that, “I personally have not heard” of marijuana being laced with fentanyl in the county. “That stuff is usually reported directly to me.”

Chromik did cite a state highway patrol intelligence briefing which he said noted that potential fentanyl-laced marijuana from Pennsylvania could be “working its way westward.”

The fentanyl-laced marijuana urban legend seems to have started around Vancouver, British Columbia, in the summer of 2014. An August 2015 report at InfoNews.ca features the opinions of Ken Salter, an outreach worker for the Kamloops ASK Wellness Society, who said that he heard rumors “about a year ago” that fentanyl was being added to marijuana.

He was convinced the rumours were true after two people he describes as ‘hard core users’ nearly overdosed after smoking laced joints. One man was rushed to hospital, the other woke up hours later on his kitchen floor. He emphasizes both men were not strangers to opiate drugs but were greatly affected by what he believes was fentanyl.

Salter admits he cannot say with certainty what the marijuana was laced with. He has brought his concerns to RCMP.

Salter believes powdered fentanyl mixed with water is being sprayed on marijuana either because it is “has been laying around for a while” and has low THC levels — the fentanyl gives the weaker marijuana an extra kick — or to grow an existing client base. Fentanyl is used to hook people, usually unknowingly, onto a more powerful drug.

Salter’s opinions seemed to sway the Vancouver Police Department. By spring of 2015, they were beginning an awareness campaign about the dangers of fentanyl that included warnings about marijuana laced with the powerful opiate.

Vancouver Police Department Constable Sandra Glendinning said drug users may not know they are buying drugs laced with fentanyl. “They’re not realizing what they’re taking, and that’s what’s leading to some of these deaths,” she said at a press conference on Monday.

The awareness campaign, which includes a website (www.knowyoursource.ca) and Facebook advertising, will target recreational users rather than people who take illegal drugs daily. Fentanyl overdoses have typically been associated with heroin use, but the drug is also showing up mixed with marijuana, cocaine and oxycodone.

That’s a pretty scary warning in the top half of the piece. It’s not until the penultimate paragraph that we get any indication that fentanyl-laced marijuana is still just a rumor.

The coroner’s office has not released information about what other drugs were detected with fentanyl in last year’s overdose deaths. That means it is impossible to say whether any recreational marijuana users, for instance, have died from a fentanyl overdose.

Vancouver P.D. Website Carries Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Warning for Two Months in 2015

Thankfully, the fentanyl awareness campaign’s website doesn’t make any mention of marijuana. Anymore. KnowYourSource.ca was first registered in February of 2015 by the Vancouver Police Department. The first snapshot of the site I could find from March 7, 2015, included the line “Heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, marijuana and other drugs can be cut with fentanyl, in powder, liquid or pill form. It often comes in similar packaging.”

KnowYourSource.ca March 2015
Vancouver Police starting the fentanyl-laced marijuana rumor.

But by May 7, 2015, the Vancouver Police had scrubbed the word “marijuana” off that page:

KnowYourSource.ca May 2015
Now fentanyl is added to “other drugs”.

But as late as December 17, 2015, Vancouver Police were still spreading the rumor that fentanyl-laced marijuana was turning up in British Columbia.

Startling statistics on fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths have prompted police and health authorities to issue a public warning — particularly to recreational pot users.

Vancouver police Const. Sandra Glendinning — at a news conference Monday to highlight the lethal risks of the synthetic drug — said they are now finding fentanyl turning up in batches of seized marijuana.She said city police will announce Tuesday a major fentanyl ring has been busted, but didn’t provide any further details.

And once again, they could not offer up any proof that this was actually happening.

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.

The rumor continued to circulate through Canada throughout the following year, culminating in the November 17, 2016, news conference by the premier of British Columbia, begging the federal government in Ottawa for assistance in combatting the opiate epidemic.

But during a news conference Thursday, [British Columbia Premier Christy] Clark warned that fentanyl had even been found in B.C. bud.

“Regulating marijuana is even more important now, when we’re finding fentanyl in marijuana. Vancouver police did a major seizure,” Clark told reporters.

However, Clark seemed to be relying on old information from the Vancouver Police, who apparently didn’t do a very good job clearing the air about marijuana and fentanyl.

In an email, police said the suggestion that some marijuana was laced with fentanyl “may have been the belief at the time… but it has shown not to be the case and we continue to correct any misinformation.”

The B.C. Coroners Service has no reports of deaths directly related to fentanyl-laced marijuana, but the province’s public safety minister insists there is still cause for concern.

That “concern” from the public safety minister, Mike Morris, is based on what he heard about people who claimed to be marijuana-only users receiving treatment with naloxone, the opiate overdose-reversal drug. He admitted to the CTV reporters, however, “that the individuals he’d heard about may have lied, but said he believed it’s best to be vigilant.”

Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Rumor Migrates To USA

By February 9, 2017, the fentanyl-laced marijuana rumor made its way across the border and into Ohio, where little Paynesville Township became the US ground zero for this scaremongering.

Three people overdosed within a 12-hour period after smoking marijuana laced with an unknown opiate, the Painesville Township Fire Department said.

The fire department issued a warning on its Facebook page after three people overdosed late Tuesday and early Wednesday in Painesville Township. Fire department paramedics revived all three with Narcan, a life-saving opioid overdose antidote, Chief Frank Whittaker said Thursday.

Just four days later, the Fire Department had to retract that assertion.

Lake County officials have determined that three people who claimed they overdosed on marijuana laced with an unknown opiate actually used crack cocaine and other drugs.

Lab tests confirmed that the marijuana seized during three separate overdose investigations was not laced with an opiate such as heroin or fentanyl, the Painesville Township Fire Department said on Facebook.

“Lab results did find crack cocaine and other drugs in the residence,” fire officials said in the post. “Sometimes people are not honest with us about what they have taken or used.”

Whether marijuana can be spiked with fentanyl isn’t in question. Drug users mix and match their substances all the time. I found this case involving the death of Rachel McCue’s toddler in Indiana from June 10, 2013, where the defendant, Thomas Gorski, convicted of felony neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, admitted to the police that he smoked marijuana laced with fentanyl.

Gorski admitted to police that he abused hydrocodone and marijuana. McCue told police that Gorski had smoked marijuana that was laced with Fentanyl, a narcotic, right before she left for work on November 24. Gorski gave the police a blood sample, which contained cannabinoids and Fentanyl. He had a prescription for the Fentanyl.

In addition, the police searched Gorski’s computer. They found an online discussion between Gorski and another person that had taken place on the night of November 24, when Gorski was watching Evan and his children. Gorski attempted to convince the other person to come to his home and trade marijuana for a Fentanyl patch. The deal fell apart because Gorski insisted that the person consume the Fentanyl at his home, and the person wanted to take the patch to his own residence.

The question is whether there are actually marijuana dealers out there lacing their product with fentanyl and selling it to unaware customers. Just today, there is a report out of Alabama claiming that police in Madison County have seized 30 pounds of fentanyl-laced marijuana.

[Madison County sheriff’s Capt. Michael] Salomonsky said investigators believe the suspects were selling marijuana and spice in $60 packages that contained 5 grams of the substances laced with heroin or fentanyl.

While field tests have identified white powder substances as fentanyl and heroin, Salomonsky said authorities have sent the substances for testing at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences.

So the police conducted field tests on the white powder substances, but what about the marijuana? What leads to this “belief” that the herb is tainted with fentanyl? I reached out to the reporter, Ashley Remkus, for clarification via Twitter.

Regular reader of WeedNews will recall that these field tests are highly inaccurate and recently earned a man jail time with sugar glaze from a Krispy Kreme doughnut was identified by a field test as methamphetamine.

Where You Can’t Buy Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana

The demonization of marijuana legalization by tying it to some Fentanyl-laced gateway drug theory isn’t just preposterous, it’s counter-productive. The most recent studies and surveys show that access to marijuana is correlated with fewer opiate overdose deaths, less opiates detected in car crash victims, less opiate addiction, fewer opiate pills prescribed by doctors, and less use of those opiates by pain patients.

In that context, the continued scaremongering about fentanyl-laced marijuana by Canadian and American officials may be unwittingly aiding the efforts to legalize marijuana. Not only would legalized marijuana help reduce the problems we’re seeing with opiate addiction, but a legal marijuana shop is never going to sell anybody fentanyl-laced marijuana.

Not that people like Sen. Rob Portman are going to recognize science when it slaps them in the face. Tom Angell updated his post at MassRoots with comments from the senator regarding the so-called long-debunked “gateway theory”.

Smith, the senator’s communications director, said in an email that “anyone who doesn’t think marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin and other drugs is deluding themselves. The senator hears it time and time again from those in treatment and recovery.”

This “alternative fact” about marijuana leading to opiate abuse is a favorite of the nation’s Attorney General (for now) as well, who has said “you can deny it all you want to,” but “it tends to happen”, no matter what every study conducted by governments and universities has concluded – the gateway drug theory is a myth.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 191 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Russ Belville Show - The Voice of the Marijuana Nation, a two-hour live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on RadicalRuss.com (learn more on our Podcast page).  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 50 North American cities.