Examining the Myth of Fentanyl-Laced Cannabis

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Examining the myth of fentanyl-laced cannabis A look back at the history of the media’s favourite marijuana misinformation

It is a rare thing to be able to say you witnessed the birth of a legend, let alone an urban legend, but that is what we are witnessing with ‘fentanyl-laced cannabis’. Like evolution itself, there are dead-ends; there is also re-emergence.

One possible birth-place of this myth is CTV news in Calgary Alberta. In November 2014, they published a simple story about traffic stops leading to seizures of cannabis and fentanyl. The story itself clarifies that it was two separate stops; one which yielded cannabis, and the other fentanyl. The headline however read: Marijuana and Fentanyl Seized.

It was perhaps this that led the Vancouver Police Department to issue a statement in March of 2015 which claimed “Fentanyl-laced marijuana, heroin, oxycodone and other party drugs, have resulted in the deaths of many occasional drug users.” Not only is cannabis included, it’s listed first. In fact, Constable Sandra Glendinning ‘insisted police are seeing fentanyl in marijuana,’at a news conference  the very next day, promoting a new campaign called, ironically, ‘knowyoursource.ca’. The story was reported in numerous outlets.

By June 2015, the fentanyl crisis (which Macleans traces back to 2002 in Canada) was finally getting some attention, but so was Constable Glendinning’s.

In August, Dr Mark Lysyshyn, a Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, seems to be the first official to state publicly that fentanyl has not been found in cannabis. This didn’t stop others from quoting the original story over the next year, including a North Dakota police force in July and a sitting BC Premier in November.

BC Premier Christy Clark was no stranger to election drama, from losing her own riding and pulling off a come-from-behind victory for her incumbent party last time, to effectively splitting the vote to win reelection and still not getting to form government. One early sign that things weren’t going to go smoothly can be seen in November of 2016. At a press conference in Ottawa, Premier Clark repeated the claim—not from the earlier VPD release that fentanyl had been found in cannabis, but one put out by the Masset RCMP the week before.

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