Advocates say legalizing marijuana could prevent opioid overdoses | Crime and Courts

RACINE — The Racine Police Department is warning the public of an increased presence of fentanyl, a deadly opioid, in locally recovered marijuana, a drug that it is virtually impossible to overdose from.

An alert on the RPD’s Facebook page Friday said: “We the Racine Police Department do not condone the consumption or sales of illegal narcotics. But, if you were to find yourself in possession of such, we want you to be as safe as possible. Currently, the City of Racine is seeing a spike of illegal narcotics laced with fentanyl, including but not limited to, marijuana. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is extremely dangerous. Drug traffickers will often mix fentanyl and weed together, due to it being a cheap way of manufacturing their product. We care about the citizens of Racine, and we don’t want more overdoses. Please make good decisions and be safe!”

Earlier this year, fentanyl test strips became legalized in Wisconsin, allowing drug users to test their product for the presence of fentanyl, which is believed to be at least 50 times more potent and deadlier than morphine.

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Racine County distributes fentanyl test kits for free. Visit or call the Opioid Resource Hotline at 262-638-6375 to learn more.

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana have argued that legalization could make the drug safer. If recreational marijuana was legal and regulated, like it is in more than a dozen states, including Illinois and Michigan, the production lines could be tracked from the grower to the user. When marijuana is primarily available through the black market, it is more likely that the drug will be contaminated.


“For marijuana, I would say it’s definitely safer if we know the place distributing it is … government-regulated,” said Fabi Maldonado, a Racine County Board supervisor and advocate for the legalization of cannabis, in a phone interview Sunday. “It’s a safer route.”

Local law enforcement has been reporting with greater regularity that officers are finding fentanyl mixed in with other, less lethal drugs, putting the lives of users at risk.

Maldonado continued: “When you have fentanyl in your body, it’s usually unknown. People who are looking for cannabis are not looking for fentanyl. The end result is totally different … When you smoke cannabis, you’re not looking to die from it.”

However, overdoses related to marijuana laced with fentanyl are rare. Fentanyl is more regularly found mixed with drugs like heroin and other opioids or cocaine, where it would be virtually undetectable to the eye when used to cut another powder.

As Medical News Today reported last month: “As illegally manufactured fentanyl is readily available, it is also less expensive and more accessible than some other opioids. Some drug dealers now press fentanyl into pills to make it look like an opioid prescription, or to increase the ‘high’ a person experiences with other opioids.”

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are blamed for recent sharp increases in drug overdose deaths nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “In 2019, more than 36,000 deaths involving synthetic opioids — other than methadone — occurred in the United States, which is more deaths than from any other type of opioid. Synthetic opioid-involved death rates increased by over 15% from 2018 to 2019 and accounted for nearly 73% of all opioid-involved deaths in 2019. The rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were more than 11 times higher in 2019 than in 2013.”

Likewise, from 1999 to 2020, U.S. drug-related overdose deaths rose from fewer than 20,000 per year to 91,799 in 2020, the federally funded National Institute on Drug Abuse reported. Across that same timeframe, the U.S. population grew by only 18.1%, from 279 million to 329.5 million.

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