• November 26, 2020

CNN should retract or correct report on legal marijuana in Colorado

 CNN should retract or correct report on legal marijuana in Colorado

By Patrick Byrne

The News Station

It was distressing to see CNN publish a shallow and sensationalistic story on its website last Friday linking a transitory increase in some of Colorado’s crime rates with its legal and heavily regulated cannabis industry.

Breathlessly titledColorado Governor Won’t Rule Out Banning Marijuana Again. Here’s Why,” this headline manages to cram two materially false statements into 10 words. It’s a towering #FakeNews achievement by the CNN editors, and demands a factual response.

Firstly, Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper doesn’t have the authority to ban marijuana, and neither does its state legislature. Colorado’s founders granted its voters the power to change laws and the constitution directly and relatively easily when voters feel they need to prod their elected representatives on important topics. And that is precisely what Colorado’s voters did, first to allow medical marijuana in 2000 with Amendment 20 and again in 2012 for recreational marijuana with Amendment 64. Coloradans have a right to grow and consume cannabis that can’t be rescinded by elected officials.

Secondly, the headline is completely detached from Hickenlooper’s quote in this very same story:

“’Trust me, if the data was coming back and we saw spikes in violent crime, we saw spikes in overall crime, there would be a lot of people looking for that bottle and figuring out how we get the genie back in,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m not ruling it out.’”

An informed reader would read this quote and understand that – if somehow a regulated marijuana industry turned Colorado into a dystopian stoner hell – a critical mass of Coloradans might want to try to repeal Amendment 64. *That* is what Hickenlooper isn’t ruling out. And of course he shouldn’t rule that out, because – again – he doesn’t have the power to stop a ballot initiative.

To take Hickenlooper’s equivocal speculation on what voters might hypothetically do in an alternate reality where a legal, regulated industry is somehow worse than our failed war on drugs, and then treat it as if Colorado is second-guessing its decision to end marijuana prohibition, is Fake News and irresponsible.

After some serious pushback, CNN agreed to change the headline of this piece to “Will Colorado Ban Marijuana Again?” a tacit and extremely lame admission about its original headline that casts the story into more doubt. A story answering that question would be a single word long: “No.”

Moving along, the story’s first sentence is somehow more overwrought than its original title:

“Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has two facts in front of him: Since 2014 crime has been rising in his state, outstripping the national trend, and since 2014 recreational use of marijuana has been legal.”

Really? John Hickenlooper, the chief executive of a nearly $29 billion state enterprise, has a lot of facts in front of him every day. CNN decided to pick two of them, not think very hard about how they could be causally linked even in theory let alone in fact, assume implicitly that a legal, heavily regulated industry somehow causes more crime than an inherently criminal black market, and then misrepresent the views of a sitting governor on a topic of massive importance to our society.

Here are some facts about the measurable impacts Colorado’s regulated cannabis industry *has* had:

  • Colorado’s cannabis industry employs more than 30,000 Coloradans and has an annual economic impact of $2.4 billion. Think for yourself: Is there likely to be more crime with 30,000 people employed in legitimate regulated businesses generating $2.4 billion in economic impact… or less?
  • Through November 2017, Colorado’s regulated cannabis industry has generated more than $226 million in taxes and fees, the majority of which has been allocated for public school construction, substance abuse prevention and treatment, mental and behavioral health services, and school drop-out and bullying prevention services. In a state chronically short of funding for public education and services for its most vulnerable citizens, Colorado’s cannabis consumers and businesses are bankrolling the social safety net that makes the American Dream possible for Coloradans not born into wealth and privilege. Is there likely to be *more* crime because of this?

A truly reprehensible part of CNN’s story is its segment recounting the tragic death of a 23-year-old Colorado woman at the hands of a transient convicted sex offender from Kentucky. The sub-header, “Did Marijuana Bring a Killer to Town?” is shocking and unworthy of an otherwise serious journalistic enterprise.

CNN took the comments of a convicted rapist and murderer that he came to Colorado because his then-girlfriend’s brother had a job in the cannabis industry and then disingenuously raised the possibility that this tragedy is somehow due to marijuana rather than the act of a violent felon who was not properly registered and tracked as a sex offender in Colorado. People come to Colorado for all sorts of reasons; is guilt by association now a CNN editorial standard?

The story then posits whether a regulated cannabis industry has affected the growth of Colorado’s homeless population. Yet more lazy and statistically specious speculation that ignores other factors that are obviously and directly connected to the size of the homeless population, such as:

  • Large and sustained net in-migration to Colorado (which has been happening since well before recreational cannabis was legalized) that has outpaced growth in the housing supply. This has led to rent increases in the Denver metropolitan area that have exceeded anywhere in America besides Seattle;
  • Dysfunction and NIMBYism in land-use planning at the local level that has fueled sprawling suburban McMansion farms rather than the compact, dense, transit-oriented affordable development that keeps urban working families off the streets;
  • A decade-long impasse at the statehouse between developers and trial lawyers that choked off the supply of new condominium construction in all but the most wealthy parts of Colorado, which has ultimately made housing of any kind unattainable for many low-income Coloradans; and
  • Woefully inadequate public resources to address the opioid crisis that has ravaged Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens. Remember, people don’t engage in violent property crime to fuel their raging cannabis addictions. They do because they are hooked on heroin and opioids even more deadly than heroin. Opioid overdoses fall in states with legal marijuana.

This deeply misleading story is made all the more frustrating because CNN has generally reported on cannabis issues fairly and accurately. As recently as April 2, CNN reported on the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal’s findings that medical marijuana availability reduces opioid addiction, and CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has spoken the truth about cannabis regularly and eloquently since 2013.

But none of that undoes the damage done by this regrettable fake story. We call on CNN to retract this article, own up to its mistake, and report responsibly on Colorado’s legal cannabis industry going forward.

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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