Marijuana scare stories resemble 1930s ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda

Cannabis food

As more states consider legalizing marijuana, the federal government and media are telling horrifying tales of pot-induced deaths and car crashes.

There’s today’s story in the USA Today that claims marijuana is causing more car accidents, citing a Columbia University study that concludes pot contributed to 12% of traffic deaths in 2010, a three-fold increase from a decade ago.

Reefer MadnessWhat the story – and many others like it – don’t mention is that it’s nearly impossible to determine whether someone is under the influence of pot because marijuana stays in the system for weeks after it’s smoked. That’s why the Arizona Supreme Court in April struck down a zero-tolerance law that made it a crime to drive with marijuana in the system.

The zero-tolerance law “would create criminal liability regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver’s system or whether it has any impairing effect,” the Supreme Court determined.

Related: My first experience buying recreational pot in Colorado

Another narrative making its rounds is that edible pot is transforming otherwise stable people into lunatics akin to the characters in Reefer Madness, a 1930s propaganda film that suggested marijuana turned people into rapists and murderers.

The evidence? The media and government cite the same two cases from earlier this year: A Denver man who fatally shot his wife and a college student who jumped to his death off a hotel balcony.

Most media stories omit that Richard Kirk also had taken painkillers in April when he shot his wife, who had told a 911 operator that she believed her husband was hallucinating. And medical professionals are questioning a coroner’s conclusion that marijuana caused 19-year-old Levy Thamba to jump off a hotel roof after eating some pot cookies.

The inconclusive evidence doesn’t mean dispensaries should ignore the toxicity of edibles. Like any product, the edibles should be reasonably regulated and clearly marked with instructions on how much to consume.

The deaths require a close examination, but they don’t warrant a “Reefer Madness”-style response.


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