Yellow Journalism To Blame For Pot Prohibition?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 15, 2008

    Wow! You know there’s something to this story when it’s the journalists themselves espousing it.

    Writing Wrongs
    via The Philadelphia Weekly

    Bad journalism is to blame for marijuana prohibition. … The truth is, most people who use drugs — both legal and illegal — do so responsibly and without any noticeable detrimental effect. [Yet,] 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.

    … 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.

    … It’s sad how long people have been pointing out this bad journalism, and how little anything seems to change.  

    Back in March I wrote an essay for Alternet.org dissecting how the mainstream media falsely reported that inhaling cannabis poses a greater cancer risk than smoking tobacco — based on a study that concluded the opposite result. More recently, I lectured on this topic before attendees at the Fifth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. It’s a subject worth revisiting.

    So why does the media consistently ‘get the story wrong’ when it comes to pot? While I don’t believe there’s any grand conspiracy going on, I do believe that journalists in general engage in several bad habits that negatively skew their cannabis coverage.

    First, beat writers too often base their pot-related health and science stories on press releases rather than actual data.

    Second, the mainstream media often chooses to selectively highlight data implicating cannabis’s dangers while ignoring data implicating its relative safety.

    Third, and perhaps most importantly, mainstream news stories about pot seldom make references to previously published research (research that typically disproves the crux of the media’s latest scare story) or place new data in context.

    Writing in the journal Science nearly 40 years ago, New York state university sociologist Erich Goode aptly observed: “[T]ests and experiments purporting to demonstrate the ravages of marijuana consumption receive enormous attention from the media, and their findings become accepted as fact by the public. But when careful refutations of such research are published, or when latter findings contradict the original pathological findings, they tend to be ignored or dismissed.”

    How little has changed.

    33 responses to “Yellow Journalism To Blame For Pot Prohibition?”

    1. danny says:

      such massive confusion surrounding legalization might indicate a conspiracy.
      see movie trailer

    2. “Conspiracy?!”

      I agree with Mr. Armentano; there is no “conspiracy.” Just stop and think a moment, what is involved in actually pulling off such a thing.

      Our Government only *wishes* that they had the means and power required to orchestrate a “conspiracy” of this magnitude!

      Those who see “indications of conspiracy” in things like this are dismally ignorant of the complexities of human societies.

      There is only one force under the stars that can possibly accomplish such a nefarious purpose:

      Human Stupidity.

      The cure has always been the same: Knowledge!

      I saw cell phones popping corn kernels in you-tube also, and I know that’s a lie also.

    3. mr. zapata says:

      I simplly think that for too long marijuana has been demonized but government studys, and those studys have been put in the media, always implicating some new lethal and dangerous effect of smoking marijuana. so people who have not tried pot simply eat all they are feed by the media without questioning the fact that the studys are comming from bais partys.

    4. Jeff says:


      The News sent out for the public is alwayz Negative

      i Think its time to say something Positive About Marijuana for once…

    5. […] to get the story wrong when it comes to pot? Good question. You can read my abbreviated answer here. And while you?re on NORML?s site, get the skinny on what the scientific literature really has to […]

    6. jorge perez says:

      i love marijuana

    7. Alex says:

      Its ok for hundreds of thousands of drunk people to kill innocent people on the roads. Its ok for millions of people to smoke ciggerets and get lung cancer driving the cost of health care up. Its ok to be obeese. Its ok to sell and buy sick twisted porn, promoting sick child abuse and other sick shit. But its not ok to smoke a natural thing that God put on this planet. Just another example of what we allowed our society to become.

    8. big d says:

      all of this talk is well and good, but are we accomplishing anything? no… with the mindset of so many stuck in the victorian era is will take our actions as responsible consumers of marijuana to change peoples thinking.

      PFC D.D.
      US Army
      Taji, Iraq

    9. […] to get the story wrong when it comes to pot? Good question. You can read my abbreviated answer here. And while you?re on NORML?s site, get the skinny on what the scientific literature really has to […]

    10. […] to get the story wrong when it comes to pot? Good question. You can read my abbreviated answer here. And while you’re on NORML’s site, get the skinny on what the scientific literature […]