On Monday, National Public Radio marked the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20 with a story called, “What If Marijuana Were Legal? Possible Outcomes?” We were not impressed, but you can listen to the story and read a transcript here.
After reviewing it, I wrote the following e-mail to the reporter and assorted NPR honchos:
I read the transcript of this — haven’t had the chance to hear it on the radio today — and I must say I’m profoundly disappointed. You weren’t interested in talking to us for the piece, but if you had, we might have helped you avoid some factual errors and highly questionable conclusions presented effectively as uncontested fact.
For example, vaporizers such as the Volcano, are not “supposed to provide a milder smoking experience.” They allow inhalation of cannabinoid vaporsÂ without smokingÂ Â — and thus without the tars and other combustion products implicated in respiratory problems caused by smoking. A minor point? Maybe, but not when you consider that the health risks of smoking are cited regularly by proponents of prohibition as one of the great dangers of marijuana.
And the suggestion that legalization would lead to more potent marijuana stands economic reality on its head. Economic and policy experts who have studied this conclude pretty much across the board that prohibition increases the potency of whatever contraband substance is prohibited. As Dr. Stephen Kisely wroteÂ in the Dec. 2008 Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. “Where potency has increased, this could actually be due to the drugâs illegal status. Reducing the bulk of contraband enhances logistics of supply and profitability. For instance, the majorÂ effect of alcohol prohibition in the United States was anÂ increase in the consumption of spirits at the expense of beer.”
This is not exactly rocket science, but since you had the issue addressed by a spokesman for a group of narcotics officers, you got the official law enforcement spin, not actual research. And I can’t help but note that while you told me when we spoke a few weeks ago that you didn’t want to use advocacy groups for one side or the other, you did end up using advocates for the pro-prohibition side, but not their opponents (and if NPR doesn’t recognize that narcotics officers’ groups are advocates for prohibition, you guys need to get out more).
I will not belabor you with further examples, but there are several others I could cite. Please understand that my dismay is not about MPP not being mentioned or quoted — frankly, we get plenty of press, and one story more or less is no big deal — it’s about NPR’s consistent failure to do competent reporting on marijuana issues. This is not just you, it appears to be a systemic problem with NPR’s news, and it’s a constant source of frustration to those of us who wish that such a large, influential, noncommercial broadcast network had higher standards.
Bruce Mirken, Director of Communications
Marijuana Policy Project
Postscript: I did get a response from the reporter, which he asked me to keep confidential, and I will honor that request. Suffice it to say that it did not address the story’s errors of fact.