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What Most People Think They Know About Marijuana Is Unscientific, Paranoid and Even Racist Propaganda

Don't believe the marijuana hype.

This article first appeared at The Fix, with coverage on addiction and recovery, straight up. 

Everyone thinks they know something about drugs—whether from personal experience or from 8th grade prevention classes or simply because the media presents so many stories about them. Unfortunately, most of what people  think they know is inaccurate, and comes from years of government  war-on-drugs propaganda, with little understanding of its medical and historical context.

Take some of the recent  absurd anti-marijuana columns and tweets from some of the backbones of the media establishment: the  New York Times’ David BrooksRuth Marcus of the  Washington Post and Tina Brown, former  New Yorker editor and founder of the  Daily Beast.  

Both Brooks and Marcus told stories of their own youthful pot smoking—neither of which seems to have led to any lasting negative consequences as is the case for the overwhelming majority of marijuana users. Yet both claimed—without apparently understanding that relying on a  single study that has been questioned in a follow up by the same journal is not accurately reporting “fact”—that marijuana definitively lowers IQ.  

And neither mentioned the elephant in the room:  the fact that marijuana laws are mainly enforced against black people and that arresting millions and saddling them with criminal records hasn’t prevented around half of the adult population (white and black) from trying weed. It has, however, meant that black people have reduced opportunities to get jobs with organizations like the  Times or the  Post while Brooks and Marcus never faced arrest.

Conveniently, the columnists also left out the fact that countries like  Portugal that have decriminalized marijuana (or countries like Holland that tolerate some commercial sales of marijuana) actually have lower rates of youth drug use than we do.

Meanwhile, Tina Brown also tweeted that marijuana makes people stupid and legalization will reduce our ability to compete with China. Suffice it to say that she has little evidence for such a claim—one might argue based on equally flimsy data that it enhances creativity and popular culture, which is one of our true strengths—but that wouldn’t sound appropriately “serious.”

And right there is the problem: columnists and journalists who write about drugs rarely question conventional wisdom or go beyond cherry-picking of data to support what they already “know.”

But why are we so gullible in this area, when reporters are supposed to be skeptical? One reason has got to be the fact that over the last 40 years, the government has  spent billions of dollars on advertising and even  planted media articles and messages in TV shows aiming to get us all to “just say no.” While these campaigns are often ineffective at preventing use, they do seem to work at clouding perception.

And the truth is seen as immaterial in the drug war. Written into the  job description of the “drug czar” by Congress is that whoever heads the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) must “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form)” that is currently illegal, regardless of the facts. When asked about its distribution of “misleading information”—by a Congressman, in fact—ONDCP cited this provision to justify doing so, saying that this is “within the statutory role assigned to ONDCP.” In other words, they have to lie.

Rare is the journalist who will admit to having fallen for this outright propaganda, which is why last year’s confession by CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he was wrong about marijuana was so stunning.

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