The Austin Chronic – Which Is Better: Marijuana or Fentanyl?

According to the government, cannabis is scarier than the drug killing over 150 people a day

The Austin Chronic – Which Is Better: Marijuana or Fentanyl?

President Joe Biden would have to take a dab rip during a State of the Union speech to prove to me he's not a cop, given his decorated service in the war on drugs. But, to his credit, an executive action he initiated last year is progressing toward the most significant federal marijuana reform this century.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended the DEA reschedule cannabis in the Federal Controlled Substances Act. The directive calls for weed to be moved from the strictest Schedule I, a category of "drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," to Schedule III, defined as "drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence."

The impact of such a rescheduling, pending Drug Enforcement Agency review, is that cannabis businesses would no longer be precluded from federal tax exemptions and they would finally gain access to banking. Not being subjected to laws meant for narcotic traffickers would be game-changing for the industry.

But this news made me curious: If cannabis is Schedule I, what drugs are in Schedule II? Here's one you'll recognize: fentanyl.

Yep. The federal government has deemed a synthetic opiate 50 times stronger than heroin to be safer than the cannabis plant.

Now, when I was a young goblin in the early 2000s, fentanyl was seen as the Grey Poupon of prescription opiates: lollipops and transdermal patches that you basically had to get off a terminal cancer patient. Since then, the emergence of illicitly manufactured fentanyl has become so horrifyingly pervasive that it being ranked more favorably than cannabis seems preposterous. Let's compare.

Do most Americans want it to be legalized?

Marijuana: A 2022 Pew Research poll found that 88% of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use.

Fentanyl: No polling exists on this. Weird.

Which is trendier?

Marijuana: It remains the most popular federally illegal drug, but the number of users increases only moderately every year.

Fentanyl: Fentanyl wins here. Its numbers are so sky-high (trafficking offenses have risen 460% since 2018 and overdose stats have soared upward each year since 2012) that it's been deemed an epidemic and even recently earned a national day. Apologies to everyone born on August 21: Your birthday is now Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day.

Did it kill Prince and Tom Petty?

Marijuana: No.

Fentanyl: Oops.

Is it natural?

Marijuana: Yes. The cannabis plant was first domesticated in the Neolithic era – literally the Stone(d) Age.

Fentanyl: No. It's created in unregulated labs through a series of chemical reactions.

Is it made in the USA?

Marijuana: Yes. A study by Whitney Economics clocked the total weight of cultivated cannabis in the U.S. last year at 48.8 million pounds. Meanwhile, weed intercepted by the U.S. Border Patrol in 2022 (155,000 pounds) was the lowest since records have been kept.

Fentanyl: Illegally manufactured fentanyl is mostly made in Mexico using raw material from China.

Notable side effects?

Marijuana: Impaired memor… Wait, what were we talking about?

Fentanyl: Constipation … and death.

Which is cheaper?

Marijuana: A pre-roll joint costs $5-10.

Fentanyl: A milligram costs $15-20.

Do you need to sneak it into other drugs to get people to take it?

Marijuana: No, but feel free to do so.

Fentanyl: Aside from a comparably small number of prescription patients and some hardcore opiate addicts, fentanyl is mostly consumed as an unexpected adulterant to powder drugs or counterfeit pills.

Does it have medicinal applications?

Marijuana: Yes. The FDA has approved THC in applications for combating nausea and stimulating appetite, and in the majority of states cannabis is a viable treatment for a litany of ailments including seizure disorders, chronic pain, cancer symptoms, and anxiety.

Fentanyl: Yes, severe pain management.

Will it kill you?

Marijuana: No.

Fentanyl: Last year, the United States set an all-time record in drug deaths with over 109,000. According to the CDC, over two-thirds of them involved synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl.

After carefully reviewing these metrics, I will continue to choose marijuana over fentanyl. As for the rescheduling, it would strengthen the cannabis industry, but still falls short of campaign promises made by Biden, who could fulfill equal justice efforts by actually removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

Kevin Curtin will be back in two weeks with more cannabis musings. Subscribe at to get “The Austin Chronic” delivered to your inbox.

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