A recent news story out of London, Ontario has cannabis activists and users alike wondering whether or not scare tactics are at play.
Last week, Chris Mackie, a medical officer at the Middlesex-London Health Unit, warned residents in the area that cannabis users should carry Naloxone kits. He told the media he had reason to believe that illicit marijuana in London had been laced with fentanyl.
But Mackie never saw or tested the drugs in question. He delivered the warning after finding fentanyl in the urine of supposed heroin and marijuana users who were being treated at a suboxone clinic in July.
"When people use illicit drugs, there's no way to know exactly what they're ingesting. Finding fentanyl in drugs like marijuana means that people who think they are doing something minor may end up dying of overdose," he told the St. Thomas Elgin Weekly News around August 3.
David Cowen, a patient of the clinic, was told his test was positive for fentanyl. He claimed false positives at the clinic were common, and said he was certain his test was incorrect.
"In my case, I've had easily half a dozen false positives," he told CBC. "They say it's probably in your marijuana, or they think you're actually using the drug. I've never used that in my life, and I also don't smoke marijuana, so I know it's wrong."
Cowen also said that it's irresponsible for health officials to incite panic about cannabis.
"It's very inflammatory. It's not logical for someone to be lacing very expensive [fentanyl in] pot. It's just inflammatory and it's not true."
Neither Health Canada nor the RCMP have confirmed a single case of fentynal-laced marijuana. (In March, this was confirmed by Health Minister Jane Philpott.)
While university professors questioned it and activists made their skepticism known on social media, London police and Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek were vocal supporters of the warning.
Educate yourself and your friends and family! Marijuana is NOT what you may think it is. Fentanyl is a crisis and real. Drugs are not safe. https://t.co/z2lL06xXyX— PC Tanya Leclerc (@CstTLeclerc) August 4, 2017
Speaking with media again on Tuesday (August 8) after facing cynicism from critics, Mackie defended himself, noting that he never indicated that the health authority was "100 percent positive that marijuana was contaminated with fentanyl."
"Street drugs have inherent risks associated, and I think it's really dangerous when people try to deny that," he said, while admitting there was a possibility he had been given "inaccurate information."
"I understand why people think we may have overreacted here. I think there's also a dramatic overreaction among people who have this really emotional attachment to the drugs they use—that's probably equally or more dangerous."
We get it. Cannabis users can be a passionate bunch. Some have been fighting for the right to openly use the plant for decades. Only now is that fight starting to pay off, but there is still much work to do. Your statements prove that.
What Mackie fails to realize is that his argument, which accuses cannabis users of being too attached to the plant, erases the patients that have used cannabis to come off of opioids; to counteract their chronic pain; to cope with their stress and anxiety.
When at every turn, prohibitionists and fearmongers seek to paint cannabis with the same brush as substances that actually do kill people, having an emotional attachment to a drug that has changed (or even saved) your life in a big way doesn't seem that counterintuitive to us.