Sign up for the Word on the Tree newsletter

“Police: Woman high on weed in wreck that killed grandkids,” blared a headline from The Associated Press.

But it’s unclear whether the driver of the car was indeed under the influence of marijuana.

The AP report states:

The Morning Call of Allentown reports that authorities found marijuana and 49 Oxycodone pills inside Walton’s purse and several bottles of alcohol in the car. Court records show Walton’s blood tested positive for marijuana.

But someone testing positive for marijuana does not necessarily mean they were impaired. “Unlike blood alcohol concentration levels, THC levels do not correspond with impairment levels,” wrote Dr. Carl Hart, the chair of Columbia University’s psychology department. “News reports claiming a causal link between THC positive urine (or even blood) tests are misleading.”

These types of headlines are nothing new. In April, the San Antonio Express-News published a headline that read: “Pot found in truck that hit church bus near Leakey, DPS says.”

But those who continued on to read the article would find that the truck driver had been consuming generic versions of Klonopin, Ambien, and Lexapro, and he was texting while driving.

In stories like these, law enforcement sources tend to blame weed even when other, more dangerous behaviors are present. Texting increases the risk of a crash by 23 times, according to a study that analyzed the behavior of truck drivers. Another laboratory study using a driving simulator found that crash risk increased eight times when the driver was texting. Meanwhile, federal data show that the chance of crashing increased nearly 600 percent under the influence of alcohol. That same data showed no significant crash risk by drivers under the influence of marijuana.

While it’s one thing for reporters at small, local publications to lack expertise on cannabis, it’s another for the Associated Press to demonstrate such ignorance. After all, the wire service welcomed cannabis trade site Marijuana Business Daily as an associate member earlier this year. “We’re pleased to have Marijuana Business Daily join the news cooperative,” Jim Clarke, AP regional director, said in a statement. “The staff produces strong journalism about a business that’s newsworthy not just for the dollars it generates but also for the cultural and legal implications of legalization.”

It looks like it will take some time for Marijuana Business Daily’s cannabis expertise to spread to the rest of the Associated Press.

Sign up for Word on the Tree's daily email newsletter

The Word on the Tree newsletter is widely hailed by cannabis professionals, advocates, and journalists as indispensable reading. Get updates on policy reform, business dealings, and scientific research – all in a concise digest.