New York marijuana regulators are working to debunk what they say is the “false” narrative that cannabis is commonly contaminated with fentanyl—a “misconception” that remains “widespread” despite a lack of evidence.
The state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) recently put out a factsheet on the issue, acknowledging that while fentanyl has been found in drugs like MDMA and heroin, anecdotal claims about marijuana laced with the potent opioid are so far unfounded.
OCM published the two-page document—titled “Cannabis and Fentanyl: Facts and Unknowns”—to “address misconceptions about cannabis being mixed with fentanyl,” it said. “The goal of this fact sheet is to provide evidence where it is available, to share information about what is currently known and unknown, and to provide safety tips to help alleviate some of these misconceptions, often spread through misinformed media coverage and anecdotal reporting.”
“Misinformation related to the danger of accidental overdose due to cannabis ‘contaminated’ with fentanyl remains widespread,” the office said. “Anecdotal reports of fentanyl ‘contaminated’ cannabis continue to be found to be false, as of the date of this publication” last week.
This isn’t to minimize the dangers of fentanyl, which is present in the illicit drug supply and contributing to record-high rates of overdose deaths, the regulators said. Certain opioids have been identified in synthetics like K-2 (or “spice”)—in addition to cocaine, heroin, MDMA and pressed pills—but regulators say it’s important to provide the public with evidence-based information about cannabis as the state’s legal market is implemented.
That’s another point OCM is hoping to drive home: buying marijuana from licensed shops significantly reduces the chances of contamination overall, so the safest option for consumers is to transition away from illicit sellers to the regulated marketplace. That said, access remains an obstacle, as the state’s legalization rollout has proved unexpectedly slow.
“Cannabis products made available in the unregulated market may contain unknown or undisclosed contaminants and have inaccurate labeling,” the factsheet says. It also points out that the reliability of current testing protocols for fentanyl on cannabis flower remains “unknown.”
“Fentanyl test strips were designed for testing substances that are water soluble, with current testing methodologies focused on detecting the presence of fentanyl in powders or pills,” OCM said. “As fentanyl is not found in the cannabis supply, it is not recommended to use fentanyl test strips to test cannabis.”
Regulators also took the opportunity to recognize that many people who use opioids are “stigmatized in health care settings,” which can be detrimental because it “contributes to mistrust that can result in inaccurate self-reporting or failure to disclose opioid use due to fear of inequitable care or punitive interventions by law enforcement.”
“Promoting opioid overdose prevention and other harm reduction strategies improves public health through evidence-based interventions and stigma reduction,” the document says.
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Anecdotal claims about fentanyl-contaminated marijuana have commonly originated from law enforcement sources, with warnings then carried by media outlets. The resulting narrative has at times been adopted and echoed by lawmakers, including at the congressional level.
In May, for example, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) proposed an amendment to a fentanyl-focused bill that would have required the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to carry out a study into cannabis tainted with fentanyl. It was not made in order for floor consideration by the House Rules Committee, however.
A 2024 GOP presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, has also suggested at times that China is supplying Mexican drug cartels with ingredients to produce fentanyl-laced products, including “CBD gummies.”
Back in New York, the factsheet is one of the latest examples of how regulators are imploring adults to purchase cannabis from licensed shops where products are tested for a wide range of potential contaminants. And while access remains limited, the state has taken recent steps to speed up implementation.
Last month, for example, New York opened the application period for hundreds of new marijuana business licenses, marking the beginning of a massive expansion of the state’s legal cannabis system. So far only about two dozen retailers have opened statewide since adult-use sales began last December.
The change opens retail licensing to all applicants, including big businesses from outside the state and existing medical marijuana companies. That sparked an outcry from social equity applicants, who said it will undercut the state’s ambitious plan to prioritize small businesses and companies owned by people most directly impacted by prohibition.
Regulators also launched a program, known as the Cannabis Growers Showcase (CGS) that allows licensed growers and processors to sell directly to consumers. Regulators voted to approve that program in July and quickly began accepting applications. The first pop-up event kicked off in the Hudson Valley in August, and another was held down the road from this year’s state fair.
Late last month, 66 state lawmakers—about a third of the entire state legislature—also wrote to Hochul urging her to sign a bill that would allow licensed marijuana producers to sell products to tribal retailers. The plan would offer a release valve to hundreds of cannabis farmers who are currently sitting on surpluses but have no place to sell their products.
The circumstances have resulted in more than 250,000 pounds of unsold cannabis being held by growers, the letter says. “Farmers who took out loans and leveraged all their assets to cultivate these crops are demoralized and facing financial disaster unless we act quickly to provide them with an alternate market.”
Read the full New York cannabis and fentanyl fact sheet below:
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