While cannabis policy reform gains steam around the country, local news outlets still have some work to do. Reefer Madness headlines continue to top stories, like this one published Tuesday by the San Antonio Express-News: Pot found in truck that hit church bus near Leakey, DPS says.
On March 29, truck driver Jack D. Young was at the wheel of a vehicle that crashed into a van carrying a church group. The truck veered into oncoming traffic and hit the van head on, resulting in 13 deaths.
Court records suggested that Young had been texting while driving. He also reported consuming pharmaceutical drugs that made him feel sleepy: generic versions of Klonopin, Ambien, and Lexapro.
Both Klonopin and Ambien have sedative effects. Nevertheless, the Express-News emphasized that Young was in possession of pot in the headline. While investigators found partially smoked and intact joints in the vehicle, court documents say the combination of pharmaceuticals would be enough to impair a driver.
This is a common mistake in reporting on drug use. While plenty of headlines raise alarm over the opioid epidemic and overdose deaths, those reports overlook an important fact: opioid overdoses almost always involve another drug. So while opioids are demonized in the media, the true danger lies in mixing them with other sedatives like benzodiazepines and alcohol.
Prohibitionists have already seized on the story as an argument against reforming cannabis laws. Julie Schauer donated $1.3 million to oppose California’s legalization initiative last November.
— Julie Schauer (@InAweofArt) April 12, 2017
The Express-News is not alone in its penchant for scary weed headlines: “Police: Man left child alone with marijuana, loaded gun,” reads one gem from WYMT, a local news station in Kentucky. “Church-going cannabis user who strangled his grandmother and drowned his aunt is jailed for life,” reads another from The Telegraph, a British daily published out of London.
Reefer Madness-style headlines like these may be good for clicks, but they inaccurately associate cannabis with violence.