BRATTLEBORO — Police say no fentanyl was found in marijuana suspected to be laced with the dangerous drug.
On Nov. 21, the Brattleboro Police Department issued a news release about a person who overdosed but told police they only smoked marijuana. The department said marijuana had tested positively for fentanyl in a field test.
On Nov. 30, the department reported that it participated in a warranted search with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in which marijuana suspected of containing fentanyl was seized. Police arrested three Brattleboro residents for possession of fentanyl, and two of them for contempt of court as well, but it’s unclear if those citations were dropped as the arresting officer could not be immediately reached. The State’s Attorney’s Office has not charged anyone involved in the incident.
Forensic laboratory testing of the seized marijuana from both incidents in a forensic laboratory concluded it contained no fentanyl, according to a news release issued by police Thursday.
“BPD stands by its previous public safety advisory that it is wise for consumers of marijuana to know the source and history of any marijuana they ingest,” the news release states.
BPD Capt. Mark Carignan said the story grew “beyond what we actually said — because everyone is always itching for a headline about police.”
“We warned people who smoke marijuana legally to know where it comes from — that’s it,” he wrote in an email response to the Reformer. “This is about harm reduction. If someone walked up to you and gave you a head of lettuce in a parking lot, along with a carrot they pulled out of their pocket, you would probably not run home to make a salad and eat it. You buy your vegetables from a known and reputable source — the grocery store, farmers market, perhaps grown in your own garden. That is all we are saying. If you’re going to eat/drink/smoke something, know where it came from.”
Brenda Siegel of Newfane, former candidate for governor and lieutenant governor, has raised concerns and reached out to police to discuss them.
“I’ve been really irritated by this situation because I assumed what we now know,” she said in an interview, having questioned the reliability of field tests since reports about the incidents surfaced. “Because I think that it’s really essential for us to get the facts right when we’re talking about it because it creates a hysteria among parents especially for obvious reasons but just as a community. Everyone who gets arrested with this accusation becomes a name that is demonized and that is really not OK and we have to think about who that disrupts the most, and it’s historically Black and Brown people in our state and jurisdiction.”
Siegel said field tests should never be relied on to inform people of fact.
“They have sent many people to jail before we knew that, who shouldn’t have been in jail,” she said.
Carignan said the field test generally consists of a small plastic tube or bag that contains small ampules of a chemical agent, with different kits used to test different drug types.
“You put a small sample of the suspected drug in the tube/bag, and break the ampules,” he said. “The various ingredients mix and will turn a particular color if the suspected drug is present. Again, this is a presumptive test and does not conclusively indicate that the drug is present.”
Siegel said if someone says they did not use anything but cannabis, there is a strong possibility they are afraid to say they may need help with other substances. She believes it is highly unlikely for cannabis to be contaminated with fentanyl like other drugs, and fentanyl would be killed if it is burned while smoking cannabis and couldn’t cause an overdose.
“It would serve no benefit to a dealer to lace cannabis with fentanyl,” she said.
She called for using the incidents as a learning experience for the community and drug policy.