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Pot-smoking journalists shouldn’t be writing about marijuana

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I’m a lifelong liberal. I voted for George McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown, and more recently Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I marched with Occupy, support the Sierra Club, and laughed when Jon Stewart exposed the bias on Fox News.

But I’m also a psychiatrist who has spent 30 years treating addicts and alcoholics, and I know this: There’s nothing Fox News has ever been accused of that the mainstream media isn’t also doing — for marijuana.

Ed Gogek

Ed Gogek

Take one example: a lot of people think prisons are filled with inmates whose only crime is drug use, especially marijuana use. It’s not true.

Yes, 20 percent of U.S. prison inmates are incarcerated for drug crimes, but they were almost all selling drugs.

According to research published in Contemporary Drug Problems, only one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. prison population is locked up solely for drug possession. For marijuana, it’s one half of one-tenth of 1 percent — about 400 inmates nationwide. And those numbers are probably high because drug possession is often the lesser charge in a plea deal.

In other words, the odds of going to prison just for smoking weed or carrying coke is practically nil. But our major media outlets keep telling us otherwise.

For example, in an April 2, 2012, Time magazine column titled “Incarceration Nation,” Fareed Zakaria wrote, “…something has happened in the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison. That something, of course, is the war on drugs.” No, it’s not. Eighty percent of prison inmates are incarcerated for non-drug crimes. If we repealed every drug law, we’d still have mass incarceration.

In a November 2012 Washington Post column, Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that legalizing marijuana would “drastically decrease incarceration rates.” However, the research from Contemporary Drug Problems found that only 2 percent of U.S. prison inmates are incarcerated solely for marijuana offenses, almost all of them for trafficking. Two percent is not by any definition a drastic decrease.

A July 28, 2014, New York Times editorial called, “The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests,” told the story of a man in prison for 13 years because of marijuana laws. But it wasn’t marijuana laws. The man received his long sentence because of repeat offender laws. He could just as easily have gotten his “three strikes” for any crime.

On March 10, 2014, Huffington Postran a story whose first sentence was, “America’s prisons are dangerously overcrowded, and the war on drugs is mainly to blame.” That’s not true; it’s at most 20 percent to blame. But Huffington Post made it appear true by using a graph of federal prisons — where half of all inmates are drug traffickers — and then mislabeling the graph as inmates from all U.S. prisons.

On July 30, 2015, Politico ran an article called “Congress’ Summer Fling With Marijuana,” that referred to “the high costs of sending millions of people … to prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses…” That’s ridiculously untrue. The United States hasn’t sent a million people to prison for marijuana over its entire 240-year history.

Why does the press repeatedly get this wrong? One possible reason is that blaming the drug war for mass incarceration has become such an article of faith, even for many reporters, that they never question whether it’s true.

A bigger problem, however, is that journalists who use marijuana are allowed to write about it. This is a conflict of interest. One reporter covering the raw milk issue for a big city daily said she was taken off the story when her editor learned she drank raw milk herself.

Marijuana is even more of a problem. The 1970 marijuana user guide A Child’s Garden of Grass says, “grass smokers are the world’s greatest proselytizers,” and they are. They seem to believe marijuana can do no wrong.

Letting pot-smoking reporters cover the marijuana issue is fox-guarding-the-henhouse foolish. It’s a recipe for biased journalism and a misinformed public. It’s probably why people don’t know that the drug war didn’t cause mass incarceration and that virtually no one goes to prison just for using drugs.

And it’s why my fellow liberals and I should criticize the bias in our own news media and not just Fox News.

Ed Gogek, M.D., is an addiction psychiatrist and author of Marijuana Debunked: A handbook for parents, pundits and politicians who want to know the case against legalization.

17 comments

  1. I for one prefer coverage by people who have enough experience to understand what they’re talking about. Characterizing a reporter’s work as biased a priori because she’s experienced cannabis is a dumb as calling foul on a science reporter who’s studied some physics. What’s really weird is thinking that people with no experience understand any subject better.

    I don’t care whether the writer calls himself a liberal, I’m more interested in whether his book is fact-based. (And by the way, flogging an opinionated book is not a good way to convince people that you’re unbiased.)

  2. What a ridiculous article and argument. The real issue is that it’s nobody’s business what adults put into their bodies.

    2 kinds of people in world: Those who wish to be left alone and those who won’t leave them alone.

    My prayer: Oh God, save me from those who know what’s best for me.

  3. A _lot_ more crimes are committed by those who drink alcohol. Perhaps the only journalists to write about wine or beer, let alone whiskey, should be teetotalers.

  4. “I have absolutely no experience about what I’m writing about, therefore I know best. And please excuse all the utter nonsense, I just made it up.” — Ed Gogek

  5. “Addiction specialists” are allowed to state their ridiculous Reefer Madness message which has caused nothing but the continuance of the failed war on people/ drugs. You’re ignorant bias is noted. Now is the time. Vote out prohibitionists. Vote freedom. Legalize 2016.

  6. While the potential harms of using cannabis are widely publicized (and often exaggerated), little is mentioned of the harms of its prohibition. When making cannabis policy decisions, it would be irresponsible to ignore these harms…and costs.

    For this prohibition to be justified it needs to be established that:

    1) Cannabis is particularly harmful (at least more than alcohol)
    2) The prohibition will significantly reduce problematic usage

    And:

    3) The direct and indirect costs of this prohibition to an American society need to be less than any gains from 1 and 2 (don’t underestimate the value we place on freedom and liberty)

    None of these 3 requirements have ever been established. After decades of research, the relative safety and medical efficacy of cannabis have been established well enough to conclude that it is significantly less harmful and more useful than alcohol. The vast majority of preventable harms related to cannabis are caused by the very laws that are supposed to “protect us” from it. Some of these harms are:

    •Increased deaths of countless people involved on all sides of the “war”, including those of law enforcement and bystanders
    •The spending of 100’s of billions of our dollars seeking out, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating otherwise law-abiding citizens
    •The loss of billions in tax revenue from cultivation, distribution, and sales, which can be used for all substance abuse treatment
    •The redirection of valuable police time and resources from solving and preventing true crime
    •The filling of our jails with non-violent offenders, exposing them to true criminals and forcing the early release of dangerous criminals
    •All sales, over 10 million pounds per year, are unregulated and placed in the hands of people who never check ID, many of them hardened criminals
    •The empowerment and expansion of underground markets as a very popular substance is placed within them
    •Increased violent crime as dealers and buyers have no legal recourse to resolve disputes
    •Increased exposure to hard drugs as many cannabis consumers buy from suppliers who have access to them, even push them
    •Increased likelihood of contamination with anything from harmful pesticides and molds to other drugs
    •The prevention of some adults from choosing a recreational substance less harmful than alcohol
    •The notion that all illegal drugs are particularly dangerous is weakened
    •Increased corruption within the legal system
    •The invasion of our civil liberties, which in America we hold in especially high regard
    •The prevention of people from receiving effective medicine
    •The prevention of people from receiving decent employment, scholarship money, and student aid due to their “criminal” record, which affects not just them but their family as well
    •Families are torn apart as members are imprisoned or children taken away in the name of “protecting them”
    •Increased support of tremendous multinational criminal networks
    •Increased public mistrust, disrespect, and disdain for our legal system, police, and government, which is devastating to our country

    Considering these great costs, it is unreasonable to continue this policy against a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol. Why are we forcing police to deal with something that is, if anything, a minor public health issue? Why are we criminalizing people for something that has been safely enjoyed by millions of Americans for decades, something that a majority of Americans believe should be legalized recreationally?

    Cannabis prohibition is a travesty of justice based on irrational fears and paranoia from an archaic era that needs to end now. Cannabis must be legalized and regulated similar to alcohol. Prohibition policies do not work for popular things that are safely enjoyed by many…especially not in a country that values liberty, justice, and freedom.

    A vote to end cannabis prohibition is a vote to condemn a costly prohibition that causes more harm than it prevents.

    Please urge your legislators to implement a cannabis policy similar to that of alcohol. Consider what the following cannabis legalization organizations have to say. Help end this harmful, unjust, unfounded, unpopular, un-American prohibition by joining their mailing lists, signing their petitions and writing your legislators when they call for it.

    MPP – The Marijuana Policy Project – http://www.mpp.org/
    NORML – National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws – http://norml.org/
    DPA – Drug Policy Alliance – http://www.drugpolicy.org/
    LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – http://www.leap.cc/

  7. Are we have to blindly believe you?
    Isn’t this just more of the FEAR mongering articles by someone who has a vested interest in continuing this war on drugs, really a war on people who are disliked?
    It’s funny how these learned people and elected officials claim to be the only ones who know what to do about addictive substances.
    They refuse to believe people, especially cannabis users, hide themselves from these zealots so as to protect themselves from hatred, not just the persecution from laws based in greed and prejudice.
    The prisons aren’t busting at the seams with cannabis violators, but local jails suffer, so much so, a Texas sheriff refuses to house people caught with cannabis at the Sierra Blanco federal border checkpoint.
    In crowded Texas prisons, federally mandated sentences instigated federal intervention, helped release a convicted murderer, who had been on DEATH ROW AND COMMUTED TO LIFE IN PRISON, named Kenneth McDuff. Four days later McDuff was killing women AGAIN!
    Not to mention the hundreds of thousands whom suffered harm from the over the top POLICE enforcement of cannabis laws. This erodes confidence in LEO and politicians, maybe permanently for some people.
    People who have not used or sold cannabis are beat up, robbed and killed to “protect the children”.
    In your state of Arizona a few years ago a young former Marine defending his home from what he perceived as home invasion, was killed by LEO serving no knock drug warrant, TO THE WRONG ADDRESS!
    Another such raid severely burned a child sleeping in his crib with a flash grenade, the one place our children should be ABSOLUTELY safe!
    In Texas a small boy was abducted by CPS from “marijuana abusing” parents, sad how Prohibitionist call any cannabis use as abuse and don’t see alcohol a problem, and moved him to a foster home. CPS had to remove him from this foster home when his now real abuse became obvious and he was placed in another foster home for “his protection”. He was KILLED by the second foster caregiver, now God protects him.
    It really is bad that the laws about cannabis, and other psychoactive substances, cause this prejudice, a hatered of some of our fellow human beings, LEO and civilian alike.
    Please contact your elected officials and inform them YOU’LL VOTE THEM OUT for their draconian beliefs and behavior.

  8. Fastest growing industry in America? Legal Marijuana, coming to your town very soon..you suffer and get locked up while we heal and get rich….#1 crop in California and LEGAL in ALL west coast states, #$$$GrowsOnTrees

    the west coast thanks you a trillion (dollar$), filling any order anytime

    23 states and the DOC(Puerto Rico and Guam) allow marijuana but not 1 southern state, NOT 1!!!….lol, nobody denies freedom like the south, nobody

    Deaths by alcohol: Millions
    Deaths by tobacco: Millions
    Deaths by guns: Millions
    Deaths by prescription drugs: Quadrupled in decade
    Deaths by marijuana: 0, EVER……(Centers for Disease Control Statistics)

    new studies on animals by the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT claim marijuana kills some cancers and reduces the size of others…1000s of Cancer research centers sucking Billion$ and yet not 1 study with marijuana decades later, not 1…and you think they are trying to cure cancer?#AmericanIdiots

  9. I’m a republican, this “article” is idiocy. That’s like saying you can’t comment on drunk driving if you drink alcohol. And the author seems a bit confused, maybe it’s all the scotch. The problem isn’t prisons, the problem is the millions of invalid arrests that occur every year. No one should ever be arrested for smoking a joint, anymore than they should be arrested for drinking wine, that is lunacy. Every arrest is itself, a crime, an injustice. Lives are destroyed because of these invalid arrests. People lose their jobs. People can’t find work thanks to so called “criminal records”. People lose their children. People can’t get into college. It is a barbaric system, and it needs to be destroyed. If it isn’t a “crime” to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, then it sure as heck isn’t a “crime” to smoke a joint, in fact, it’s much much safer.

  10. Right – and restaurant reviews should be written by people who don’t eat.

  11. So people who have consumed a product, like alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals, should not be permitted to offer their opinions on it? How are we going to cope with automotive, movie and book reviews? What about former cannabis consumers?

  12. Dude! Big time LOL. Thank you. Wish I’d thought of it.

  13. Applying your logic, should someone who makes his money by “treating” alleged marijuana “addicts” be allowed to write about decriminalization (specifically, in opposition to it)? I suspect your income would go down if marijuana became legal and the courts stopped forcing people to either go to treatment or accept a felony.

    Also, your definition of “going to prison” might be a bit too narrow. Consider the following data:

    Number of arrests in 2014 in the U.S. for drug law violations: 1,561,231
    Number of these arrests that were for possession only: 1,297,384 (83 percent)

    Number of arrests in 2014 in the U.S. for marijuana law violations: 700,993
    Number of these arrests that were for possession only: 619,809 (88 percent)

    Of course, most of these people will plead out, and accept treatment (ahem) as an alternative to prison. So, they probably spend some time in jail (but not prison), and then pay you for your “counseling” to help them kick their largely non-addictive marijuana “habit.”

    Glass houses, stones, you get the point.

  14. Dude, seriously, come down off your hateful high horse that unnecessarily criticizes people doing something that they love and also causes no real harm in the world. If you really want to put your writing skills to use go on and criticize the availability of guns and bombs, criticize the devastation of human and global environments by capitalism. Don’t just hate on people enjoying a little bit of ganja bliss. You sound like a dweeb. Use your skills for something truly meaningful……..

  15. Who wrote this? Joe Arpaio? This is what happens when you write about things you don’t understand. I hope his “practice” can survive public malpractice.

  16. The title of this article speaks for itself

  17. Eric Schlosser seems to indicate that your numbers are a bit off at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/08/reefer-madness/303476/ and in his book ‘Reefer Madness’. I personally feel that the war on drugs has been a $2B/year waste of time and resources (in the US) that could be better used to deal with addiction therapy, education and not saddle users with criminal records. I’m glad that here in Canada we’re debating decriminalization vs legalization. I personally know many casual users and a number who use marijuana to relieve pain, nausea and other medical issues. As a matter of fact I know few people of my age (60) who haven’t used it at some time in their life for one reason or another.

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