As New York state continues to iron out the details of its new legalized marijuana laws, authorities have some urgent warnings for those who continue to use illegal cannabis.
“It’s just scary how it’s being handled right now,” said Sgt. Phil Genier of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. “But it’s something we’ve got to cope with and educate with because it’s not going away."
Opioid overdoses are on the rise in New York, according to the state Department of Health. The New York State Department of Health continues to issue warnings, saying in a statement earlier this year, "Fentanyl has made street drugs far more dangerous. Even casual or occasional drug use can result in an overdose or death. We all need to be able to recognize an overdose and have access to naloxone, the medication which reverses opioid overdoses and saves lives.”
Officials are also issuing warnings as to the dangers of marijuana laced with fentanyl.
“I’ve known it to be on the synthetic, I have not known it to be on the marijuana in our specific area. But that really means nothing when they’re being packaged by, in some references, just criminals,” Genier said of hearing of reports of marijuana being laced with fentanyl.
Genier says synthetic marijuana mixed with fentanyl is something police have been on the lookout for.
“The scariest part thus far that I’m witnessing is the synthetic marijuana,” he said. “That’s the plant-based or the spiced K2 where they’re spraying THC content on it, or supposed THC content. I know some of that has been field tested for positive signs of fentanyl and it is sold throughout our city as well.”
He says higher THC levels in marijuana is another recent cause for concern.
“The higher THC levels, they could be contributing [to] some new smokers blood pressure [dropping],” he said. “You may get to the point of dizziness where you may pass out.”
Fear of inhaling or ingesting fentanyl is prompting some marijuana users to get on board with what may be becoming a new trend of testing their cannabis before they smoke it by using easy-to-access fentanyl test strips and kits.
“It’s a safer measure, right?” Genier said. “I mean, I’ve field-tested hundreds and hundreds of times over the last 10 years. There’s some false positives. That’s kind of a quick indicator of what may be present in that substance. So it’s never full proof.”
New York state is touting its buy legal campaign by promising safety.
Gov. Kathy Hochul's office announced last month that it is launching a public education campaign to promote legal purchases of cannabis from licensed dispensaries. The campaign highlights both the potential hazards of buying marijuana from an unlicensed business as well as touts the safety of regulated cannabis.
"To bolster the public health and safety of all New Yorkers, we are providing them with information they need to make informed decisions and enjoy cannabis responsibly," Hochul said in a statement last month. "As we continue to build a healthier and more equitable cannabis market, I am proud to launch this important public education campaign to promote safer, legal purchases of cannabis from licensed dispensaries throughout our state."
“Which is 100% accurate,” Genier said. “I mean, that would be the safest thing. You go to where it is a state approved location where it is for sale and you know that all that marijuana was properly screened. If you do not go to that state location, awareness is the key to the rest of it.”
Genier says he is devoted to educating people about the dangers of drugs, specifically young people, and he focuses on fentanyl, he says, because it is so deadly.
Genier says people will make better choices and will be safer if they have information.