Smoking Out the Media on Marijuana Legalization

Media coverage on the legalization of marijuana has increased dramatically after Colorado legalized its recreational use. But the opinions of the media sources have been far from “middle of the line”.

Caitlin: Media coverage hasn’t been unbiased at all. Even if an article or report does not specifically give an opinion, there is always some sort of negative connotation with discussions involving marijuana and its legalization. And since media is such a powerful entity, it is more than likely that it has played a large role in states’ decisions to legalize marijuana or not, whether it is for medicinal or recreational use. And worse than the negativity, media seems to play off legalization as a joke, with some news stories being too light-hearted and comical. For example, right after Colorado legalized for recreational use, there was a news report where a reporter went into a dispensary and interviewed people buying marijuana pumpkin pies. Immediately these people were stereotyped as stoners by how they acted. There were tons of other people in the dispensary that wouldn’t be considered stoners, but none of those people were interviewed. It’s hard to find that to be a coincidence. The media is very picky about who and what they are covering when it comes to marijuana legalization. In fact, the problem with stereotyping marijuana users  and proponents of making it legal extend farther than news. Movies and music all play a role in an attempt to sway people’s opinions of how marijuana legalization should be handled. In movies such as Pineapple Express, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and many others, the “potheads” are seen primarily stoned out of their minds on their couches.  Although some marijuana users could definitely fall under the “Cheech and Chong”  category, the majority of users should not be stereotyped in that way.

Andrea: I think that it all depends on which media source you’re following on this topic. Obviously marijuana legalization has caused a lot of controversy around the county, but it all depends on how people are getting their news. More conservative media is going to portray it as bad, while liberal media tends to do the opposite. Then on top of that, there are individual blogs people follow and consume as actual news sources. I believe this adds to the skewed perception people often have about this issue. While there is no such thing as an unbiased news source, in this case I believe it is important to look at both sides of the argument before making a definite decision about what to believe.

James: You both make very valid points. I feel, from personal experience, when you follow local news stations the reports tend to be underdone and lacking important or factual information. For instance (I don’t have the report but I remember hearing it over spring break) our news station WNDU did a report on dabs. They said that these were harmful. That dabs actually can kill and hospitalize people. They were warning parents and kids about this “new drug” craze. This is only partially true. If you take a look into actual medical reports, you could see that for one THC concentration is not harmful to the body, and secondly these were dabs or marijuana wax being cooked similarly to meth… When dabs are made at home, people have to use chemicals and other things for the wax and THC to bind and stay together to be smoked. These chemicals being used are what actually are putting those people in hospitals and giving their brains and bodies allergic reactions. They failed to mention how medically prepared THC wax dabs are safe and naturally extracted. As for a bigger news broadcaster, such as CNN, FOX, etc. I believe both aspects would have been mentioned as the companies would then proceed to present their view as they do; making it clear to the audience whether they are for or against the movement of marijuana legalization.

Andrea: Actually, I disagree that some bigger news outlets would report the medical aspects of dabs. This is purely because they want to use specific information that coincides with the company’s overall beliefs. For a conservative source like Fox, they might leave out that information, just like WNDU did because they want their audience to see dabs only as harmful substances. Whereas on the other side, a company like CNN might bring up the medical studies done on the topic to reinforce that dabs aren’t necessarily as dangerous as conservative media would lead someone to believe.

But does this problem extend farther than just marijuana coverage?

Andrea: Personally, I believe that there is no such thing as an unbiased publication. In broadcast media, for example, Fox News tends to lean to report from the right-wing. CNN however, tends to lean more the left-wing. Although both claim they report neutrally, you can generally tell what stance they take just by looking at the type of stories they report, and how they report them. Marijuana legalization is so controversial that both media outlets cover the story, but they tell the story from different perspectives. In that respect, media is biased on all topics.

James: I can agree with Andrea on this. It seems each political news station/channel has some sort of specific opinion, though they report being neutral. You can, in a way, decipher what their true opinions are on how they present their information to the public. This article appears to report more of the negative things they could find about the use of marijuana; seemingly attempting to persuade the public poorly about the use or quite possibly false side effects of the use of marijuana. A true unbiased, neutral source that I have witnessed I believe was from reference the Maryland decriminalization article. They report exactly WHAT happens. There was no fluff in it if you will.

Andrea: I agree that US News and World Report are fairly balanced. The article you pointed out was short and to the point which was refreshing to see after researching other news outlets that clearly take a right or left wing approach. To me, it sounded more like a press release than an actual story. This is probably the reason that their articles tend to sound like they aren’t taking a side; because they aren’t. In another article I found published to their website, the source material comes from an AP report. It too is presented in a simplistic form, so that the reader gets the information without observing an obvious bias.

Caitlin: There’s rarely an unbiased news story, but that is also determined by the fact that people are never unbiased. The stations that are biased are not necessarily “bad”, but have just chosen their audience. Media in general is biased because people are biased. But unbiased media sources are helpful when someone does not already have an opinion on a certain subject. Rather, they attempt to see both sides of the story and then choose what they want to believe. So having media that only portrays one side of the story isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but people need to use their discretion when deciding which media sources they are going to put their trust in.

Andrea: It’s true that biased media does help people form opinions. However, the problems arise when people only consume information that comes from one side of the argument. When that happens, then the topic skews from the original issue and becomes an entirely new problem. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who cling to an extreme left or right wing perspective. In this case people tend to point the finger of blame at the people who don’t share the same beliefs as them. I believe this prevents the progress of any debate to come to a civil and rational conclusion. For instance, the marijuana debate will never be completely resolved because there will always be people who strongly oppose or support it. This is where media needs to come to some sort of agreement because it can be used as a mediator in the conflict to help people come to a general consensus. To do this, they need to focus on facts rather than personal opinion.

James: I mean, it makes sense to me how each station has their views and audience. I feel that sometimes these companies/stations stretch the truth, but not necessarily tell outrght lies. There have been times I have watched heated discussions on CNN, FOX, etc. and heard things that to me didn’t sound true. I say they didn’t sound true because they would speak of harmful side effects from marijuana use. But, as a fellow user, and one who has been interested in the science behind the drug itself and done research for a few years now from my findings, researchers have found no negative effects from the use of marijuana. This would obviously rule in favor of of those who are pro marijuana legalization.

Andrea: If any media outlet told outright lies they would either be sued for slander or libel depending on if you still read your news). But as I’ve said before I would say the issue is more of skewing the truth to fit political affiliation rather than stretching the truth. What I mean is that by choosing to omit some information, but include other information, the topic is being fit into a sort of mold based on how that company believes. The thing people need to realize when they consume news media, they are usually only seeing one side of the story. After watching or reading something, more research needs to be conducted to get a complete idea of what is actually true about the topic. In essence, people need to find out for themselves the facts about the issue before just believing whatever the media tells them.

Caitlin: It’s hard for people to go and get the facts for themselves because people tend to believe what the media tells them to believe, depending on what news sources they follow. Although supplemental sources may be needed for someone to make a rounded opinion, many people don’t do the research that is necessary. Thusly they tend to stick with their media source and what that source tells them. In a nutshell, media is just the messenger. And it’s the public’s responsibility to take what the messenger says and do something with it. The people’s responsibility is to determine their own opinions, but they are falling short. They just rely on the media source of their choice.

With marijuana legalization becoming more prominent across the United States, will the media begin to report differently?

Andrea: Like I’ve said, there is always truth in reporting. The problem is when the whole story isn’t being told. However, I don’t believe that any outlets will begin reporting the entire story because it doesn’t fit in with their beliefs. In fact, I see it getting worse as the issue of legalizing marijuana becomes more volatile because each organization is going to be struggling to maintain their perspective as new information gets released. Recently a few articles  saying that marijuana effects your brain in a bad way. Previously I said that CNN identified with a more left-wing way of thinking. So it’s interesting that they pointed this study. I believe it’s good that this was published by CNN though because it demonstrates how media is not always acting according to some agenda that people tend to think they have. The Washington Post article is a little less surprising considering it tends to be a little more right-wing.

Caitlin: If anything, the media may start portraying it as more of a cash crop than a drug, if in fact the media makes a turn. Due to the fact that recreational use is new and medicinal use is relatively new, certain problems have not been encountered that could arise later swaying decisions when it comes to marijuana. If the United States in its entirety decides to legalize (medicinal or recreational), then it is possible that the media will change from being marijuana-drug oriented to marijuana-crop oriented. Especially in the Midwest, where agriculture is dominant, media would most likely put its focuses in that direction.

James: The article Andrea presented just gave me aid to a great point. To me, now it seems certain outlets of media know that this plant isn’t harmful to the body. If you read the article carefully, they “claim” it effects the brain in two ways. Motivation and emotion. Alright cool. But the only thing said about how it affected motivation and emotion, was just that. Their evidence was “this effects motivation and emotion.” The media knows this is not a harmful substance, yet it seems they’re continuing to try to find ways to give it a bad name by stretching the truth, instead of writing out full-fledged lies. It’s like the use of alcohol, it effects people differently. So if someone smokes a joint, and instead of wanting to go throw a frisbee they decide to watch a movie? That’s a lack of motivation. But after someone different smokes a joint they may want to go for a run (me). Different people are effected in different ways, leading to my point on alcohol, if they want to talk about emotion. People get drunk, then spontaneously angry, and beat up others sometimes family members. They get aggressive. Yet alcohol is still legal. Why? Because not EVERYBODY gets angry when they drink. On an emotional level yes marijuana can effect it. Which is why when users hear certain music, watch movies, or anything of the sort they have a more in depth and complex way of thinking. They can really FEEL what is going on around them. The article didn’t even specify if it was a positive to negative effect on emotion. Which is unprofessional and just shying away from the point of the entire article. The intent of it was to keep this harmless plant in a bad light. It has come to my attention that the article was debunked later anyway by a few separate articles.

In the end….

Caitlin: It is most likely impossible for there to be any kind of agreement among all media outlets. With there being so many opinions about marijuana legalization, and millions of people in the U.S. with their own opinions, there will never be one core belief on marijuana legalization. Also, because the idea of legalization is somewhat new and is in the “experimental” process (Colorado recreational usage law), it is hard to determine now how the media will continue to portray it. Throughout the history of media and its evolution, the way stories are told have changed with the times and society. Obviously the biased media sources are going to “stick to their story” on whether it is good or bad. But with new information comes new opinions, so for now it is a waiting game to see how the media will portray marijuana in the future.

James: I’m going to have to agree with Caitlin on this one. I don’t ever see or nation being completely united on such a topic like the legalization of marijuana. If there ever is a sort of agreement perhaps, it wouldn’t be until well into our older years because many of the older generations now are from the time of “hippies” (pro marijuana) or those completely against marijuana in its entirety. In regards to news stations, no I don’t believe there will ever be a sort of agreement. Our nation as a whole is too stubborn and, as everyone is rightfully entitled to their opinion, political parties in today’s society will never attempt to be accepting of someone’s views that may be somewhat different, in my opinion.

Andrea: The only way I see media outlets reaching any sort of middle ground on this issue, or any issue really, is if the people who consume media do independent research, and aren’t so quick to jump on board with just one viewpoint. While that may be difficult in today’s society, I could see that happening in the future (although it may be a distant future). With so many people becoming connected via the Internet, more specifically social media, they are unknowingly becoming a media entity within themselves. If a person witnesses an event, they will most likely tweet about it or post pictures to Facebook or Instagram. This is reporting. This is how an individual contributes to global knowledge. Everybody has their biases, but people are more likely to find truth and fact in things they hear from their peers, rather than from some person on the television. If the day ever comes where journalism is not necessary for relaying information to each other (and I believe that could be a likely possibility) there is bound to be more agreement on important societal issues.