Writing Wrongs

By Daniel McQuade
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Feb. 20, 2009

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Free running, an underground sport with roots in Europe, has come to Philly.

Did you hear about the Houston woman arrested for allegedly smoking pot during jury selection for a marijuana case? How about the teenagers (also in Texas) alleged to have dug up a corpse so they could use the skull as a bong? Or the Kentucky man caught with two "large baggies" of marijuana after cops noticed him pumping gas into an imaginary vehicle?

These are recent, true stories--but they're also the prevailing images of drug users in the news media.

Most people don't use illegal drugs. In 2005 the National Center for Health Statistics reported only 8.1 percent of the population had used an illegal drug within the past month.

And most people who don't use illegal drugs don't know illegal drug users. They aren't aware of the local lawyer who relaxes with marijuana on weekends, the student who occasionally uses amphetamines to study, or the chipper who uses heroin recreationally.

Drugs are dangerous. Drugs ruin people's lives. Drugs can kill. But that doesn't mean they always do.

The truth is, most people who use drugs--both legal and illegal--do so responsibly and without any noticeable detrimental effect. Drug policy analyst Mark Kleiman of UCLA wrote last year in The American Interest: "Most drug use is harmless, and much of it is beneficial--at least if harmless pleasure and relaxation count as benefits."

Since the 1980s, drug policy--with the help of the press--has demonized drug users.

Scientific studies are frequently reported in the media without the reporter having read more than a press release, and without any regard to sample size.

The Marijuana Policy Project's Bruce Mirken wrote that an editor told him, "We are dealing with a peer-reviewed journal study, and I don't feel at all comfortable going beyond what they are publishing. That is not our role."
Reporters don't question studies that say laughable things like marijuana is more addictive than tobacco. Editors write sensationalist headlines. Slate's Jack Shafer has a never-ending flow of stories for his "Stupid Drug Story of the Week" feature. And the drug prohibitionist party line is rarely questioned.

Philadelphia media are guilty of poor drug coverage as well.
After a pot bust last year, the Inquirer reported: "A potent type of marijuana known as AK47--so strong that some users are treated in emergency rooms for overdoses--has hit the Philadelphia area." (Marijuana cannot cause overdose.)

In a report on the drug-slang term 420, NBC 10 mentioned a teenager whom "420 nearly killed."

In other cases, the news media ignore important drug-related stories--such as the federal government listing cannabis as Schedule I, alongside heroin and LSD; or that the past two presidential administrations have arrested patients authorized by states to use medical marijuana.

On May 3 approximately 400 people marched from Broad and South streets to Headhouse Square in protest of current marijuana laws.

Derek Rosenzweig, co-chair of Philadelphia's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the group that organized the protest, says he sent a press release to multiple media outlets in the Philadelphia area. For the second straight year Philadelphia Weekly was the only media outlet at the protest.

And no daily news outlet in the city reported that 78 percent of people arrested in Philadelphia for marijuana charges in 2006 were black. Former NORML director Richard Cowan, who now runs MarijuanaNews.com, says his organization was never able to get the arrest rates for marijuana into the news during his time there from 1992 to 1995.

"We put our arrest numbers on the letterhead," Cowan says. "We couldn't get it into the papers. I remember cheering when I finally heard somebody report it."

Cowan blames "bad journalism" for the continued prohibition of marijuana. It's sad how long people have been pointing out this bad journalism, and how little anything seems to change.

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Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. Allen said... on May 14, 2008 at 07:15AM

“>Cowan blames "bad journalism" for the continued prohibition of marijuana. It's sad how long people >have been pointing out this bad journalism, and how little anything seems to change. Amen. Thank you Daniel!”

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2. alicia_smile23 said... on May 18, 2008 at 02:53AM

“I second that!!”

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3. JBK said... on May 19, 2008 at 01:00PM

“I guess in this case, asking you whether you are stoned in writing this might actually be answered in the affirmative. We buried a friend last year at the age of 47. Smoking dope was how it started, ~ 30 years earlier. Engaging in a discussion of legality, civil liberties, freedom of expression and actions, etc, would be meaningless here. The uncontestable reality here is smoking pot is far, far more dangerous than proponents make it out to be. Comparing it to smoking tobacco is simply silly and stupid. Amazingly little is known about how the key psychoactive agents in marijuana act on the brain. Research done in the last few years indicates that THC can bind irreversibly at receptors implicated in things like cognition and memory (what a surprise!) The number of clearly cancerous compounds in pot smoke is greater than those found in tobacco. The idea behind using 'medical marijuana' as the only possible treatment for severe pain, as found in advanced cancer, is insane: prescription pain meds have are available and far safer. People do dope for the same reasons that alcoholics drink and junkies shoot-up: it seems easier than facing your problems in some sober way.”

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4. drs said... on May 22, 2008 at 01:55AM

“a) there is no such thing in biology as a molecule binding 'irreversibly' to ANYTHING. no particular molecule even stays active in a human body longer than a matter of hours . b) because marijuana is illegal, scientists are restricted from actually discovering whether it is carcinogenic-or, for that matter, how beneficial any of its actions may be. c) many 'prescription pain meds' that 'have are available' (?!) are opiate based and just as destructive as heroin and alcohol. there are no such things as bad drugs--only bad uses of them. Making them illegal and labeling them BAD just limits our knowledge.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Nov 21, 2009 at 03:33PM

“Sorry about your friend JBK but obviously your friend chose to go on to harder drugs. For every pot smoker that goes on to heroin or other drugs there are thousands who do not. Most people smoke pot because they enjoy it and most do so responsibly in the privacy of their own homes. It is clearly less dangerous than alcohol. As for medical marijuana I have personally witnessed two cases where the use of cannabis enabled both people to cut back on opiate drugs and lead a pain free life. Like I said before people smoke pot because they like it and what's wrong with that unless you are hung up on some kind of 'morality' that would deny people worldly pleasures. They do not smoke for the same reasons that junkies shoot up and alcoholics drink and most of them handle reality very well thank you! If you want to deny yourself pleasures then do so but stay out of the lives of others!”

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6. Free Marc Emery said... on Dec 30, 2009 at 05:47PM

“It is time to seriously consider a federal medical marijuana act. I believe that the only reason that politicians such as yourself oppose medicinal marijuana. Is that you think you will do poorly if you openly support the issue, but the thing is that marijuana has never hurt anyone EVER!!! There is no lethal amount of marijuana. Yet I cannot buy it and if I cannot buy it that means you cant tax it and I'm sure if I was to refer back to alcohol prohibition it would be a cliché' by now but lets try anyway you’ll find that during the prohibition of alcohol more people actually drank or began drinking during that time most of them at an early age. Not to mention since no one who uses the “drug” in fact are not harming others (since marijuana dose not impair ones judgment like other drugs i.e. alcohol). Also I believe not having it legalized is an infringement on my rights as an American citizen for the above stated reasons that I hurt not myself nor others, and if states choose to pass their own anti-marijuana legislation that is a different story but as I interpret it the constitution does not give the federal government jurisdiction over this issue and it should be left up to the states. Yet it has been proven that cigarettes and other tobacco products can cause cancer. No such link has been proven for cannabis. In truth marijuana was only made illegal because the use of hemp endangered the lumber industry. Also to clarify I have no problem with tobacco just whets put into it during the production process for what the tobacco lobbyists refer to as “flavoring”. Also because marijuana is illegal it is often easier to obtain than alcohol or cigarettes. If it was regulated then it would be much more difficult to obtain. Supporting the legalization of marijuana is no longer a hindrance when it comes to reelection over 50% of the populace now believes that marijuana should be legal. In closing I hope that I have given you something to think about.

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