• November 25, 2020

Cannabis opponents use Fake News to manipulate the public

 Cannabis opponents use Fake News to manipulate the public

No. Thirty-seven people did NOT die on the first day recreational marijuana sales began in Colorado in January 2014. Fake News!

It seems like The News Station shouldn’t have to point this out. Sadly, however, we do.

Louisiana state Rep. Dodie Horton, a Republican, recently claimed the statistic is true, citing a satirical news article from The Daily Currant claiming 37 people died on the first day of legal marijuana sales in Colorado in 2014.

During a hearing on a measure in the Louisiana Legislature that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program, Horton cited the Fake News story. She later clarified on Twitter that she had received the information from “a so-called ‘trusted’ source.” She only clarified after a reporter pointed out that she was using a bogus source, and Horton initially declined to correct the public record.

When Horton finally corrected the record, she threw out another bogus stat as “fact,” claiming “the number of car wrecks as a direct result of marijuana use in Colorado is up by 48%. With several ending in deaths.”

We have two studies on the subject, one of which found NO increase in traffic fatalities in Colorado and Washington after legalization. Published in June 2017 in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers used the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System to determine the annual numbers of vehicle crash fatalities between 2009 and 2015 in Washington, Colorado and eight comparable states. The study compared changes in fatality rates before and after legalization.

The study found that post-legalization changes in fatality rates for Washington and Colorado did not significantly differ from those for the comparable states. The study also found no association between recreational marijuana legalization and total crash rates when analyzing available state-reported nonfatal crash statistics.

A second study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in June 2017 stated that marijuana legalization in Colorado, Oregon and Washington resulted in collision claim frequencies that are about 3 percent higher than would have been expected without legalization. The IIHS’s Highway Loss Data Institute report points out that researchers haven’t been able to definitively connect cannabis use with more frequent real-world crashes.

The study looked at insurance claims for vehicle collisions between 2012 and 2016. Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2014. Claims were compared to neighboring states without legal marijuana.

Fortunately, despite Horton’s Fake News references, the medical marijuana legislation is moving through the process. It is a good bill. It would allow people with additional conditions to qualify for medical marijuana, especially those suffering from PTSD and intractable pain.

It may seem shocking that such a fake statistic can make its way into a legislative committee. How could Rep. Horton not have double checked such a stunning number? Thirty-seven dead on the first day of legalization. How does that not trigger a necessity to verify, especially when being used during an official hearing?

This is a problem the cannabis industry regularly faces. As a former reporter, I find myself digging through news articles to search for inaccurate stats. Most recently, I came across a story in The Gazette in which El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Schulz claimed that about 95 percent of marijuana grown and processed in El Paso County is being shipped illegally to the East Coast. I didn’t even have to check. I knew the stat was false.

I contacted the reporter to ask if she had made an effort to verify the stat. To her credit, she did, and she pointed out that the deputy could not offer supporting evidence. A follow-up interview with the deputy revealed that he could not say 95 percent of marijuana grown in El Paso County is being shipped to the East Coast. Deputy Schulz attempted to backtrack, claiming what he meant is that 95 percent of busts involving Colorado cannabis in East Coast states is traced back to El Paso County.

It turns out Deputy Schulz couldn’t produce statistics for that number either, claiming only that the statistic comes from contacts in other states. Those numbers are not tracked, and the deputy provided no verified contacts to the reporter.

We in the cannabis industry must remain vigilant. Marijuana opponents and law enforcement are regularly pushing bogus Fake News stories and false statistics to manipulate the public into thinking that marijuana legalization has been a failure. The truth is, it’s been a smashing success, and we as an industry must keep the Fake News in check.

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus served as the Senior Statehouse Reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette where he co-launched ColoradoPolitics.com, covering politics, the governor’s office, the Colorado Legislature, Congress, and federal, state and local governments. He joined in November 2016 from The Durango Herald. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the top state-based political and legislative reporters in the nation. He also has won over a dozen awards from the Colorado Press Association. In prior positions, Marcus worked for the Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly, and The Denver Daily News, a former free daily newspaper in Denver, where he covered City Hall, politics, and had an entertainment column. Before that, Marcus worked for the Longmont Times-Call. An Ithaca College graduate, Marcus studied journalism and creative writing, before moving to Colorado from New York in 2004.

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