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Lazy, lazy Prop 19 reporting

Imagine a forest fire near your house was raging out of control. The forest department would like to set up a series of controlled burns in an attempt to control the blaze. However, a number of citizens oppose the controlled burns because there are potential health risks to the firefighters, and improperly executed controlled burns could, potentially, lead to an even larger fire. Other citizens worry about planes dropping water on the flames because the planes could miss and hit a house, thereby endangering everyone inside!

Well, this sort of debate is highlighted in yesterday's LA Times front-page article on marijuana legalization. The headline reads "Health Gets Lost in Pot Debate" and the story before the fold is all about a woman named Carol McDonald who became addicted to marijuana. Later in the article we find out that her 19-year addiction to pot costs her $5000 a year, a case of bronchitis, and has led to tension in her marriage and trouble at work.

You see? We should carefully consider legalization because this one time, this one woman got addicted to it. If she did, then (gasp) other people can get addicted to marijuana, too! I suppose this is cause for concern because no one gets addicted to pot now that it is illegal. Fortunately, we have Shari Roan and the LA Times to tell us all about these previously unconsidered health risks that would only happen in the event that Prop 19 passes.

As the article unfolds we learn that there are "many" experts out there who oppose marijuana legalization because people might become addicted to the drug. Quoth Shari Roan, "the science of marijuana's health effects is in many cases unclear," and, well, um...Check out this Excel graph!

This is a really silly article full of sloppy, lazy reporting. I found it truly giggle-inducing. Keep in mind that this is on the front page of the Sunday LA Times!

Here's an example of a quote from an expert against legalization: "We generally think the problems with marijuana aren't as serious as the problems you tend to see with cocaine or heroin," said Alan J. Budney, a leading researcher on marijuana..., "But they are pretty substantial."

How substantial are they? you ask. Well, it's a good thing you asked, because Shari Roan apparently didn't. The comparison of pot to cocaine and heroine just hangs there flapping in the breeze. Lemme try that! "We generally think the problems with reading the LA Times aren't as serious as the problems you tend to see with PCP or crack, but they are pretty substantial."

Two paragraphs later we find out: "A 2004 study in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention found no increased risk of motor vehicle accidents causing traumatic injury among drivers using marijuana." [emphasis mine]

How substantial are those problems? Very substantial!

In the following paragraphs we learn that there is no strong evidence of increased risk of lung disease, studies show that pot is not a "gateway" drug, and that "the effect on school performance could be significant if more minors use the drug." Let's play count the qualifiers!

No where in the article does the author note that Prop 19 would make marijuana illegal for people under the age of 21 and would leave in place DUI laws. That seems like pretty important information to me. But it wasn't important to Shari Roan of the LA Times, because then she wouldn't have anything to write about.

Even more important to know whoud be the number of people who are addicted right now, even with marijuana designated a Class 1 controlled substance and thousands of people incarcerated each year for possession and use. But we only get to learn about one person. Remember that one lady who became addicted that one time?

So what about Carol McDonald? "Even after what she went through, McDonald said she would like to see marijuana legalized so that people who have problems with the drug will be steered into treatment." Wait, what was the point of this article again?

The byline of the article sates "Addiction and other concerns draw little notice in discussion of legalization." Maybe it's because there's nothing to discuss. Perhaps a more appropriate title for this article would have been, "Health would be just as much a concern after legalization as it is right now." But I guess that's not a very flashy headline, and the "news" probably wouldn't be worthy of the front page. Then again, the same can be said for the article as written.


blissful_e said…
It seems the editorial standard at the Miner was higher when they had John A Johnson reporting!

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