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The untold story behind medical marijuana’s success

medical marijuanaDespite all the coverage of “medical” marijuana in Arizona, the news media’s own role in promoting this law has gone unreported. Yet it’s an important story.

In 2010, when Proposition 203 was on Arizona’s ballot, opponents predicted the pot would go mostly to drug abuse. There was good evidence. Colorado and Oregon had similar laws, and 94 percent of their medical marijuana patients claimed pain, which is easy to fake. Only 4 percent claimed cancer. Also, the patients were disproportionately young and male.

Supporters, on the other hand, insisted the law was only for serious illnesses like cancer.

Which side people believed mattered. The public could be expected to vote for Prop. 203 if they believed it was compassionate care, and against the initiative if they thought it was mostly drug abuse. So reporters should have presented both sides of the debate.

Instead, one TV station, ABC15, did one story about the drug abuse masquerading as medical care in California. The rest of the Arizona’s news coverage was almost entirely about pot’s role in treating serious illnesses, especially cancer.

For example, Cronkite News ran a story that did quote the opposition — in the 15th paragraph. But their headline, “Supporters: Ailing Arizonans would benefit from medical marijuana,” and the bulk of the story were about marijuana’s role in medical care.

Fox 10’s report on the initiative didn’t even mention the opposition; all they showed were interviews with two cancer survivors. Voters can hardly be blamed for thinking that’s all Prop. 203 was about.

However, at least those stories attributed pro-marijuana statements to the people who made them. Many news outlets actually took the pro-marijuana position and presented it as fact, despite evidence that it was factually wrong.

The Associated Press wrote: “This proposal would allow the use of the drug only for serious diseases including cancer.”

Phoenix Fox 10: “The question here is should it be legal here in Arizona for people who are seriously ill.”

The Arizona Republic: “Proposition 203 would legalize marijuana for medicinal use.”

Phoenix Business Journal: “Arizona’s Proposition 203, which would legalize marijuana for medical use.”

It’s as if the opposing argument didn’t even exist.

Also, reporters appeared to accept everything the marijuana lobby said. The Marijuana Policy Project called its Arizona campaign, “Stop Arresting Patients.” So in a live debate, I asked their lobbyist to name one genuine medical patient in jail or prison. He couldn’t. That’s because patients aren’t being arrested; the very name of their campaign was dishonest. But why didn’t reporters ask that question?

They seemed unwilling to ever speak ill of marijuana. In its September 2010 newsletter, the Glaucoma Foundation warned patients against using pot because it could make their glaucoma worse. That warning should have been newsworthy; the ballot measure listed glaucoma as a condition that can be treated with marijuana. So Keep AZ Drug Free, the only registered opposition group, sent a press release to every media outlet in the state. Not one reported it.

Three months after Arizona’s program kicked in, I wrote a guest op-ed for The Arizona Republic with evidence that the opposition was right. Ninety percent of Arizona’s marijuana patients claimed pain, but were three-fourths male. That’s statistically impossible; pain patients are mostly female. But if our marijuana cardholders are really drug abusers who are faking or exaggerating their illnesses, it fits perfectly, because adult cannabis abusers are three-fourths male.

Reporters should have been interested in evidence that the pot was going almost entirely to recreational use, but no one contacted me. Two reporters who were doing sympathetic stories about people helped by marijuana did call. They wanted my comments to give the appearance of balance. But neither one would report on the people faking illness to get “medical” marijuana; they would only write positive stories about pot. So there is no balance.

Proposition 203 squeaked by with 50.1 percent of the vote, and media bias clearly tipped the scales. By emphasizing pro-marijuana arguments and downplaying opposing ones, reporters inappropriately influenced public opinion. When I asked one reporter why his colleagues were so one-sided about marijuana, he said they probably believe pot should be legal. Maybe they do, but their allegiance to marijuana shouldn’t override their professional ethics. They’re journalists, not cheerleaders.  Their job is to inform voters, not decide for them.

— Ed Gogek, M.D., is an addiction psychiatrist and board member of Keep AZ Drug Free, a group that opposes legalization and “medical” marijuana laws.


  1. Ed, I’m sure despite the name of your front group, you and your cohorts gladly prescribe dangerous meds in pill form all day long while your practices stay afloat with money from Pfizer and Merck.

  2. The only story here is the program has been a smashing success and none of the silly “reefer madness” horror stories we were warned about came true. The sick are getting the help they need, crime has not gone up, the sky hasn’t fallen, society hasn’t crumbled. Traffic fatalities are on the decline, teen marijuana use is actually going down, and the reefer madness loons are in a frenzy.

  3. Your facts are very jaded. I don’t believe I have seen you out at any of the rally’s or farmers markets that deal hand in hand with patients you are referring to. There are many patients that have been incarcerated, raided and generally harassed because of a PLANT. I’m going to offer three facts (with sources) that put all of your claims to rest.

    1. Males have a lower pain tolerance than Females. Of course they are going to be more willing to utilize medical marijuana, for it works.
    Please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtR_-MINR1o

    2. You list no source for the Glaucoma institute. Here is a source that claims that it does help with reducing the effects of glaucoma.

    3. The options for obtaining medical marijuana have been truncated to having to chose “Chronic Pain”. When the bill went up for amendment they wanted to add such diseases as PTSD, anxiety, migraines, menstral cramps, and the response was that chronic pain covered all of these. Therefore, yes the majority of patients HAVE to claim chronic pain due to no other detailed option being available.

    If an adult would like to smoke a joint to wind down after work, how is this effecting your life? Versus taking prozac or other anti depressants that can cause liver, and kidney damage and has outrageous side effects on unborn children? Take a look at the history as to why this PLANT was outlawed, it was not because it has killed numerous people, it was because a major corporation saw hemp as a threat, changed the name from Cannabis to Marijuana and demonized it, which you are continuing with a serious lack of information.

    Oh, and in case your retort was the person may drive while high and endanger your life. Here is a 143 page report that was done by DOT that shows that marijuana has little to no effect on driving.

    Your arguments are all invalid. Do some real research and stop demonizing a plant. Please feel free to contact us here at Weeducated Talk Radio for more truth and information. You can follow us on twitter @WeeducatedRadio or email Talk@Weeducated.com

  4. Jeez can you say delusional…. Mr. Gogek is a flak for the drug rehab for-profit industry and has never once done an iota of real research on cannabis. He’s just a low life that for some reason Arizona Capitol Times keeps giving the soapbox to and tis a shame. Arizona Capitol Times is not even a real news agency (more a PR agency for Governor Brewer and Rose Law Group).

  5. Hey, ‘Dr.’ Go-Geek. Quit whining, you LOST. Prohibition should have never been enacted in the first place. We tried marijuana prohibition for 80 years and it did not work. Get over it, you quack.

  6. Mr. Gogek is addicted to seeing his name in print.
    Addiction treatment is BIG business for which there is little cure. Just ask Dr. Drew. He and Carolyn Short of Keep Az Drug Free should pay more attention to the epidemic facing our children today with rampart heroin and meth abuse, and leave the subject of medical marijuana alone.
    Their facts are biased, judgemental and not based on any research, nor have they ever taken their hands away from their ears long enough to even listen to a patient.
    As a 60 year old female patient I am sick and tired of chemically altered prescription medicine, peddled by well meaning physicians, yet who are rewarded handsomely by big pharma. These drugs provide little relief, yet give plently of side effects to perpetuate the need for additional pharmaceutical drugs.

  7. He is angry because the Medical Marijuana does not pay him to perscribe it like the drug companies pay him to perscribe their drugs.

  8. During the Prop 203 debate, there were stories on Fox 10 two nights in a row about the abuse of medical marijuana in California. They had cel phone footage of all the clinics at Venice Beach each time. I also saw interviews on that station with addiction specialists and Prop 203 opponents during the debate.
    It’s important to note the burden is on the patient to provide physical proof of the debilitating condition, so the MMJ law already prohibits a lot of people in pain or soldiers with PTSD to receive cards.
    Cherry-picking the “facts” in this op-ed here.

  9. I can’t vouch for what the other news media did, but below is a link to an October 21, 2010 story in the Phoenix New Times (a couple of weeks before the Prop 203 election) written by Niki D’Andrea that presented clearly both sides of the debate.

    Despite Ed’s complaint that only 2 reporters contacted him, and that neither wrote about people “faking” illness to obtain medical marijuana, the story below contains a quote from Ed and discusses extensively the likelihood of recreational users seeking pain recommendations. It ends with the lines: We can picture it now: “No really, officer, this bag of weed is important to the treatment of my heartbreak of psoriasis/ballistic organ syndrome/tongue blisters.” Depending on how the votes go, Arizonans may be in a lot of “pain” soon.


  10. The reporter is flat our lying.. period. I myself am a card holder with a bad disk and I use it to not use so many pain pills. So this guy can piss off with his mis information

  11. Although, there is a lot of noise around about legalizing marijuana for medical reasons, the lawmakers should make sure that the weed is only regularized for the people who are seriously ill and require it the most. Otherwise, the chances of the weed getting abused for all the wrong reasons are aplenty. Medical marijuana should not be the projected reason for all sorts of unholy things.

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