‘Gazette’ cannabis package serves up purple haze


The Gazette in Colorado Springs last week published a package about cannabis legalization in the state under the banner “Clearing the Haze.”

The paper has been known for its excellent journalism and its reporters honored for their work, most recently a Pulitzer last year for a news series exposing how easily veterans can lose benefits for minor offenses after their discharge. A comprehensive series on the pros and cons of marijuana legalization is something Coloradans are always seeking.

But “Clearing the Haze” doesn’t feature the work of David Philipps, whose journalism deservedly won the 2014 prize, or any other of the excellent news reporters on the staff. Rather, we get Reefer Madness repackaged in a contemporary browser wrapper. Harry Anslinger and Richard Nixon would be proud.

That’s because it was written by two members of The Gazette’s editorial staff, one of which is former Boulder Weekly editor Wayne Laugesen, as well as Christine Tatum, a reporter turned prohibitionist who uses her husband, Christian Thurstone, medical director of a youth substance-abuse-treatment clinic at CU-Denver, as a primary source. Though authorship isn’t hidden, it isn’t promoted, either.

Besides reflecting those sorts of bias, “Clearing the Haze” does no reporting, instead rehashing a lot of the things that actual reporters have uncovered in almost every other newspaper in the state and, using carefully cherry-picked data, casts legalization in the worst possible light. No pro-legalization people are quoted or mentioned.

Legalization hasn’t been perfect, but one editorial’s main take is that sales tax numbers didn’t match the state’s early projections. Well, duh. Anybody knows that “projections” are just guesses, or that in 2013 any “expert” could pull a number out of his ass and call it a projection. Marijuana has been a black-market commodity for so long that no one had a clue how much tax revenue was going to come in or how many users there might be. So there was no promised windfall, and the state “only” collected $76 million? Travesty.

Another blames the state for not having legislated away the black market, which has been flourishing for many decades, in the first 15 months of legalization. Tell us something we don’t already know.

But that’s not the intent. “Addressing Driver Impairment Difficult” never gets around to addressing the headline. The difficulty with addressing driver impairment is that marijuana doesn’t interact with the body like alcohol, so it can’t be tested like alcohol. Today’s examinations can detect exactly how many nanograms of THC there are in a milliliter of your blood, but they can’t show impairment.

The Gazette blames legalization for that, even though thousands of people were driving stoned long before legalization. Another takes the state regulatory system to task for not having gotten everything right from the start, as if changing bad laws into better ones shouldn’t need any revisions.

“Sunday’s stories suggest the net gain from taxes and fees related to marijuana sales will not be known for a while, as costs are not known or tracked well,” says one editorial, “and there are many other unknowns about pot’s effects on public health and safety.” Despite that caveat, the authors drone on for another 15 paragraphs speculating recklessly about health effects anyway.

In one harrowing editorial, a troubled teen in an addiction program calls cannabis a gateway drug that is being marketed to kids. But — and this is the really scary part — in his telling teen use is tolerated, often encouraged by adults and parents around him, some who use cannabis with their kids. He even says that extends to school teachers and police officers who look the other way at teens using it illegally.

The story, of course, leans heavily on what the writers refer to as addiction and pushes hard on the theory that legalization is just big business trying to hook teens much as tobacco companies did in the 1950s-’60s. Quotes come from health officials and “addiction specialists,” and Kevin Sabet, the most out spoken promoter of the Big Tobacco theory as head of the anti-legalization lobbying group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, is a source.

The story suggests that, were it not for marijuana, the kid would be fine. Perhaps that’s true, and I’m not unaware of the influence that big business could have on the cannabis biz. But there is no evidence that today’s owners and operators in Colorado are advertising to or selling cannabis to minors.

Apparently, if the teen is right, that’s more than we can say about what a lot of parents, adults and authority figures are doing behind their own locked doors. But the point The Gazette misses is that the willingness of parents to tolerate and encourage teen use has nothing to do with whether it’s legal or not, and blaming the state for the actions of irresponsible people undermines the editorial staff ’s entire argument for continuing the Drug War.

And, of course, no mention is made of the more than 90 percent of people who use cannabis, many on a daily or weekly basis, some for medical reasons, some for fun, who go through their daily lives like anybody else, many of those who the so-called “specialists” would probably classify as “addicted.”

It’s disappointing and disturbing that so-called “journalists” could fall so low. I can only imagine what responsible reporters at The Gazette who could have offered an honest, perhaps award-winning look at legalization think about a charade like this.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU. http://news.kgnu.org/weed

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