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Is Media or is Government Propping up Cannabis Prohibition?

Matt Weeks
Reefer Madness Vintage Poster

Part 1 of 2 in a special feature investigating: Who’s Lying to Cannabis Patients?

Cannabis has real medical value, but that message doesn’t always get to patients. The route between a medical discovery and a doctor’s prescription is a complicated ordeal with a long history of interference. For cannabis, this has meant prohibition that is only recently being at least partially lifted. This is an attempt to trace the information, from its most obvious errors to its more nefarious roots.

social media concept with icons floating above the android phone

Image Credit: Lenka Horavova

Who’s Lying to Cannabis Patients?

The media is an easy target. No matter where you stand on any issue, chances are you can find at least one article, somewhere, that (according to your perspective) gets everything wrong. But, just because hating “the media” is an easy and oddly accepted stance to take on any issue doesn’t mean that it’s without merit. In fact, despite the mistrust of millions, people have never been more keen to devour information. And, despite the polls proclaiming an eroding sense of trust in media, the so-called Fourth Estate still commands a lot of power in the digital era.

Reefer Madness Vintage Poster

Image Credit: Unknown

Media Bias in the age of Cannabis Medicine

There has perhaps never been a better test case for media bias than cannabis. Since it was first outlawed, the cannabis plant has borne the brunt of negative and ill-informed press coverage, in every conceivable fashion. Politicians have ranted against it, corporations have funded studies to undermine its utility, Hollywood has lampooned it, the health press has denied its benefits, and the moral arbiters have judged it. That has served to bolster prohibition. The negativity continues today, despite: proven efficacy in the medical field, positive economic impact, the corrosive effect that legalization has on the black market. Despite the overwhelming positivity and very little negativity of the plant, consumers still find themselves skimming over the same negative articles and opinion pieces, lambasting the evils of cannabis.

Cheech and Chong rolling a giant joint

Image Credit: Cheech and Chong

What gives? America outlawed alcohol, only to sheepishly welcome it back to the marketplace 13 years later. Despite the opioid epidemic, no one is advocating an end to painkiller prescriptions. Cannabis is a real, viable alternative for treating chronic pain. Yet, against the common sense of everyone who’s seriously looked at the issue, cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug. It is defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”by the federal government; on par with heroin, LSD, ecstasy and peyote. Those opioids that are actually ravaging Middle America are Schedule IV, defined as “a low potential for abuse and risk of dependence.”

The Government is Definitely Lying About Cannabis

So, if the federal government is OK lying about cannabis—and it IS lying, there are still accepted medical uses according to this American Medical Association literature review.

Opioid Pills and Bottles

Image Credit: Steve Heap

Politicians on both sides have long scored cheap political points by tying cannabis users to crime or other unsavory elements in pop culture. Of course, purely coincidentally, many politicians also keep their pockets lined with Big Pharma donations—to the tune of $2.5 billion over the last 10 years, with more than $152 million spent in 2016 alone. Republicans benefitted most, by 20 percent. Big Pharma has its reasons to lobby against medical and recreational cannabis laws, namely that another drug will crowd the market and make competition tougher. A few dollars spent fighting it now means saving millions later, especially as research shows that medical cannabis laws results in fewer opioid users (and fewer overdoses).

Big Pharma spelled out in pills against a black background

Image Credit: Peter Hemes Furian

The only incentives politicians have to spare cannabis from illegality, or even a commonsense change in scheduling by DEA, is the health of the American populace—and that counts a lot less than campaign dollars.

Marketing and Ad Firms Wash Their Hands of Cannabis

Which brings us back to the media, with a similar issue. Media relies on advertisers, some of whom do not want to run ads next to articles about cannabis. The media is also heavily regulated by governments, which have put stringent checks on the ability of the cannabis industry to advertise. Rules about not reaching people under 21, for instance, make large market ad buys nearly impossible.

No Ads Sign

Image Credit: White is the Color

Another problem with the media is the lack of spokespeople to tout the benefits. The modern media relies on experts to provide voices for each side of a debate. Law enforcement officials have long been well-versed in speaking on cannabis, and can often overstate the negative consequences of cannabis use. While advocates on the other side are harder to come by and often lack the sophistication that comes with years of experience speaking with reporters.

Even new digital media outlets have old-fashioned rules against advertising cannabis products. Facebook, for example, allows advertising for drug rehabilitation programs, but not paraphernalia “such as bongs, rolling papers and vaporized delivery devices.”

Digital Media tablets and phones with symbols of social media

Image Credit: Sdecoret

So with a government unwilling to listen to experts, hell bent on maintaining prohibition of cannabis; a media unable to bend to new ideas, politicians unbendable to the will of voters, the appropriate question may not be “Who’s lying about cannabis” but rather “who isn’t?”


Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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