If you do a Google News search for “marijuana” today, instead of seeing headlines about state efforts to legalize marijuana or even stories about those opposing initiatives to legalize marijuana, you’ll instead find articles speculating on the amount of THC in the recently-deceased Sandra Bland’s toxicology report. Scroll past the myriads of headlines involving Bland’s toxicology and you still won’t easily find reports on relevant stories about the United Kingdom’s push to legalize marijuana
or Israel’s pharmaceutical cannabis legalization
. Instead, you’ll find that Alicia Silverstone’s brother was arrested for marijuana possession or that a woman of whom you’ve never heard was charged with shipping weed in the mail. Obviously, people are going to be attracted to the sensationalism of tragedy over the nuances and legal language of the latest bill designed to legalize marijuana. But is there an exaggerated demonization of marijuana happening in the media? And if so, will this impact the likelihood of the federal government to eventually legalize marijuana?
Sensationalism Distracting From Initiatives to Legalize Marijuana
Bland’s case is attracting massive amounts of attention and rightfully so. It should be huge news when a minor traffic violation snowballs into jail time and the eventual death of the detainee three days later. Bland’s toxicology report was leaked following her autopsy knocking stories about California’s 2016 bill to legalize marijuana out of the spotlight because the report showed Bland had marijuana in her system at the time of her death. The stories don’t often question how she had cannabis in her system while being held in a jail for three days and they distract from the larger picture: marijuana or no marijuana, why was Bland being held in a jail cell for failing to signal? Yet, several of these stories present the presence of marijuana in a toxicology report as a tidy explanation for a woman being arrested for a basic traffic violation and then being found hanging in her cell three days later.
Before the shift in attitude to legalize marijuana, the drug was again demonized in the infamous Trayvon Martin trial. The media paraded news of trace amounts of THC in Martin’s autopsy with the same absurd fervor with which they now present Bland’s. Yet, what the media often failed to highlight is that the tests for Martin’s toxicology only proved that he’d experienced marijuana intoxication sometime within the 4 weeks prior to the fatal shooting. Michael Brown, fatally shot in Ferguson, MO in 2014, was revealed to have 12 nanograms per milliliter of THC in his bloodstream. The news presented this as highly significant, yet an average joint packs upwards of 100 nanograms per milliliter. It’s easy to see how sensationalist stories and half-truths can harm national and state attempts to legalize marijuana.
Non-Violent Vilification of Marijuana Use
But the demonization doesn’t always come in the form of violent crime. The 2014 death of 19-year-old Levy Thamba may have dealt a significant blow to organizations pushing to legalize marijuana. His ingestion of 6 times the suggested amount of edible marijuana, purchased for him by a friend of legal age, is thought to have contributed to his leaping to his death from a 4-story building. Colorado, the state where Thamba took his fatal leap, is responsibly reforming packaging on edibles for additional clarity on dosage. Yet this unfortunate tragedy has been exploited by media outlets, some going so far as to misleadingly calling it a “marijuana overdose.” Those suggesting states that legalize marijuana will be gripped by violent criminal elements and minors throwing themselves from buildings latch onto such stories for credence.
The Hard Science That’s So Easily Ignored
The stories demonizing weed in the face of efforts to legalize marijuana often ignore scientific facts, not to mention the greater picture of proper police procedure. The New York Times
published information from neuropsychopharmacologist Dr. Carl Hart proving that Trayvon Martin, despite the trace amounts of THC in his system, was not intoxicated the night that he was fatally shot. The media largely ignored this, preferring the much more dramatic tale of drug-addicted psychosis and vice-soaked rampage. The reality is far less exciting. Despite the claims of those opposing the intention to legalize marijuana, experts agree that while excessive doses may induce paranoia and similar negative symptoms, the general effect of marijuana is euphoric complacency, sedation, and increased pulse and hunger. As for media reports that claim Levy Thamba overdosed on marijuana, the National Cancer Institute clarifies, “Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.”
Unfortunately, dispelling the distractions from the push to legalize marijuana doesn’t offer a happy ending so much as the admission of a greater problem. Once beyond the vilification of the initiative to legalize marijuana, we’re left with the naked truth of police brutality, racism delivered with deadly force, misogyny, and politics set in motion by the fraternity of money. Which in itself may actually be the best argument for
the legalization of marijuana.