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Pot Matters: Untrue Marijuana Stories



On April Fools’ day this year HIGH TIMES ran a story about the “world’s first Kale x Cannabis hybrid.” Some folks didn’t get the joke, and one asked the website Snopes whether the Kalebis story was true or not.  Snopes directed readers to a link at the end of the story which led them to an April Fools’ Day declaration.

Snopes is a great website; they fact check rumors, con jobs and tall tales. Marijuana stories give them a lot of content—and they do a great job getting the facts straight (though perhaps “correct” might be a better term).

For example, take a look at this claim: “The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) said that cannabis legalization would harm their profits, and they spend $1 million per year fighting changes to marijuana laws.”  It’s sort of true, in that the organization opposes legalization, except the $1 million figure is their total annual budget for lobbying, and while some folks think the claim came from an organizational memo, it really came from a disclosure statement required by the Securities and Exchange Commission about risks to shareholders.

What about the (now) famous photo of Snoop Dogg as the Easter Bunny carrying a basket of marijuana buds? Not real, Photoshopped—although Snoop Dogg liked it so much he posted it to his Instagram account in 2014.

Are the Colorado Rockies going to sell pot brownies at their stadium? No, totally false, just a cute story from a fake news site.

Did a cannabis drug trial lead to serious adverse effects for several participants in France? No. There was a drug study in France in which one patient became brain-dead and four other became critically ill—but no cannabis-related drugs or compounds were involved.

Was Jimmy Carter’s cancer cured by pot? No. The former president did announce that, after treatment, he was cancer-free, but no medical marijuana was involved. Again, this is another story from a satirical news site.

How about the prospect of getting paid $3,000 per week to smoke cannabis as part of a clinical study? Unfortunately, this is another rumor that can be traced back to a fake news site.

This one is interesting, and there are photos. The claim: “Fox News reported that millions of people fled Texas after a “pot rabbit plague” resulted in dozens of deaths.” False, of course, and it did not even come from Fox News but instead from a site that reports a lot of Fox News material and uses their logo. But Facebook users began to circulate this one back in November 2015 with photos and copy reading, “Millions flee south Texas as the Pot Rabbit Plague worsens. The rabbits have become carnivorous and are attacking pets, people and livestock. 56 people have been killed and eaten this month alone.” Coming soon to a low-budget cable channel… also not true.

How about this claim: “Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells in Preclinical Studies”? Almost true. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “Cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory.” The results come from animal studies, only, and as far as humans go, the only studies have been on managing the side effects of cancer and cancer therapies.

Did you hear that “NASA has discovered a new planet covered in marijuana”? (Earth?) No, another funny story from a fake news site. Same goes for “Monsanto has created the world’s first genetically-modified strain of marijuana.” On the other hand, the Marlboro M brand of marijuana cigarettes is just on old, old April Fools’ Day joke that refuses to die.

Every now and then Snopes reports that some story about cannabis is true, such as the one about cancer cells above and another explaining that 420 really is “a term signifying that it is time to light up a joint.”

However, there is something important to be learned from the Snopes’ marijuana collection. Most of the stories circulating in popular culture about cannabis are false.

Most of the stories found on the Snopes site are humorous in one way or another and interesting in a cultural anthropological sort of way because they tell us about social attitudes and expectations surrounding cannabis. The pot-plague bunnies provide a great satire about prohibition and the reefer-madness tradition, and the Monsanto/Marlboro stories feed off apprehension and resignation about the inevitable commercialization of cannabis that will accompany legalization.

There are, of course, many more untrue stories about marijuana in circulation.

They don’t come from fake news sites, but instead from people and institutions that see them not as satire but as valuable propaganda tools in their efforts to justify prohibition and opposition to marijuana’s legalization. The time is coming, though, when these untrue stories will be relegated to the same status as the tall tales that make Snopes’ marijuana collection so entertaining.

(Photo Courtesy of PixGood)