Every year, tens of thousands of people go to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on April 20. Though sometimes there are fights and (very often) the revelers leave lots of trash behind (as other partiers do in other parks every time the weather is nice), 420 at Hippie Hill is generally a reasonable sane affair. People show up, people get extremely stoned, people go home.
One thing that does not happen at 420 in San Francisco are opiate overdoses. Yet for some reason, both a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as well as a captain in the San Francisco Police Department chose to add the threat of opiate overdoses into the mix.
And as KPIX and SF Weekly reported, claims from both Supervisor Vallie Brown and SF Police Captain Una Bailey that “fentanyl-laced marijuana” caused havoc at 420 last year were made with absolutely no factual basis.
By now, the days leading up to 420 in San Francisco follow a familiar and predictable ritual. There are neighborhood concerns about traffic and crowds. There is hoopla over fences and smoking. There is a press conference in which everyone is exhorted to behave. The event happens, and 350 days later, the whole thing repeats itself.
There was one minor hiccup at 420 in 2018. According to a post-fete report published on ABC-7, paramedics revived “several” people near the park with Narcan for a possible opiate overdose. This means they might have ingested fentanyl. They also might not have.
Nowhere in the press report was it suggested or even implied that they ingested cannabis laced with fentanyl — which, thus far, has been nothing more than a myth peddled across the country by anti-legalization zealots, including the most reactionary members of the Trump White House.
According to more than one drug expert, fentanyl-laced marijuana is also a chemical marvel: the two substances require different temperatures to become activated.
Yet by the time the lead-up for 2019 came around, both Bailey and Brown took pains to tell the public that cannabis sold to 420 attendees last year had fentanyl.
“Please do not buy your cannabis on the street. A lot of it was laced with fentanyl. We know that is deadly,” Brown said at the pre-420 press conference, according to KPIX.
In her e-mail newsletter disseminated to area residents — often the main method in which both reporters and members of the public hear from police — Bailey, the SFPD captain, did exhort 420 attendees to buy cannabis from licensed vendors. That was nice, but her reasoning was not.
“Buying marijuana on the street and not from a legal vendor exposes
you to marijuana that may be laced with other drugs,” Bailey wrote. “Last year we had numerous attendees pass out form using marijuana laced with fentanyl.”
Here is the genealogy: “Several” people were revived with Narcan in 2018, after consuming an unknown drug. A year later, “several” people somehow became “numerous” individuals, all of whom smoked fen-laced weed — a narrative that, after it was spread by police and elected officials, was quickly debunked by health experts.
“I know that’s how it’s been reported, but I don’t think we know how people consumed, or got exposed to the opioids that they did,” Tomas Aragón, a physician and a top official at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, told CBS SF’s Wilson Walker.
SF Weekly dug a little deeper and discovered that Bailey and Brown had even less of a leg to stand on than a sloppy interpretation of a year-old news article. According to the paper, neither SF DPH nor the SF Fire Department had any record of fentanyl overdoses on Hippie Hill in either 2018 or 2019.
One reason why, the newspaper reported, is that fentanyl can’t be smoked like marijuana is smoked. Direct application to flame, as is done when a joint is smoked, destroys the fentanyl. “It’s not even actually possible to get high from smoking it that way,” said Eliza Wheeler from the local Harm Reduction Coalition, which advocates for hard-drug users.
Opiates are a very big deal in San Francisco and many other places in America. More than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of these were caused by opiates.
Why would authorities choose to draw attention away from actual opiate overdoses with demonstrably false statements like this — and why would they do so in San Francisco? Neither Brown nor SFPD responded to SF Weekly’s questions, and Bailey’s newsletter, with its false hysteria, remains online.
TELL US, have you ever encountered “laced” cannabis?