Did you know that President Trump’s press secretary said the administration won’t go after legalized marijuana? Or that President Trump’s new Supreme Court pick, Judge Gorsuch, supports marijuana legalization? Or that Senator Bernie Sanders was against California’s marijuana legalization? Or that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pardoned every Canadian with a weed conviction? Or that Mexico legalized medical marijuana? Maybe you missed all these stories because you were busy volunteering for a NASA project that pays you $18,000 to smoke weed for 70 days.
Or maybe you missed them because they’re all “fake news”.
Tom Angell, Marijuana Majority Mythbuster
Tom Angell, the prolific chairman of Marijuana Majority and the new senior political correspondent for MassRoots, rooted out the latest batch of fake marijuana news posted by a site called The Joint Blog. On the site, they had posted a report from “Rebecka Brian” that quoted the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer as saying it was “unlikely” that the Trump Administration would attempt to subvert state cannabis laws.
Mr. Angell reached out to Mr. Spicer, who confirmed that “I have no clue where that [quote] came from.” He then informed Anthony Martinelli, editor-in-chief of The Joint Blog, of Mr. Spicer’s denial. Mr. Martinelli responded that “Either [Spicer’s] lying/misremembering or my reporter is” and if he finds out the reporter lied, “I will immediately retract the article.”
The Joint Blog had also posted that one of their writers, Michael Bli, was a former student of Judge Neil Gorsuch at University of Colorado. Mr. Bli reported that Judge Gorsuch had spoken approvingly of allowing states to set their own cannabis laws.
Mr. Angell wrote University of Colorado, whose registrar informed him via email that “We have no record of this person.” Mr. Martinelli’s response to this fact was that Mr. Bli and Ms. Brian are real, but use pseudonyms to protect their identity, a move Mr. Angell called “highly unusual” for journalists breaking national news.
The problem of fake news was illustrated adroitly during the 2016 election, when a viral Facebook post about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump for president rocketed to the top of people’s feeds. It was completely false, but it drowned out many other completely true stories, thanks to the echo chamber nature of social media.
The stories about Sean Spicer and Neil Gorsuch didn’t remain solely on The Joint Blog. More mainstream websites, like the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, Yahoo! News, and Freedom Leaf, have reposted the false information, too.
Fake Marijuana News Is Sometimes Mistake, Sometimes Satire
The Joint Blog is not the only one to pick up on fake marijuana news posted by another website. On July 18, The Weed Blog published a story entitled “Justin Trudeau Pardons All Canadian Marijuana Offenders”. The source for that story was a now-defunct satire website called The Global Sun. The story had gone viral and gotten reposted by numerous outlets before taking the story down days later.
The Weed Blog was also mistaken in its coverage of Mexico’s attempts to legalize medical marijuana. Last December, when only the Mexican Senate had passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana, they posted the headline “Mexico Legalized Medical Marijuana”. The headline remained up long enough to get passed along through the cannabis media before it was edited to reflect the truth.
Probably the biggest, fakest marijuana news story picked up by both The Joint Blog and The Weed Blog is that the government will pay you thousands to smoke marijuana for weeks as part of a research study. The Weed Blog ran with a story entitled “NASA Will Pay You To Smoke Weed for 70 days.” Many other outlets reported it before more reputable sources exposed the fake news and The Weed Blog deleted the story.
At least The Weed Blog deleted their fake news. At The Joint Blog, a similar fake news story about a weed study originally reported as “Clinical Study Will Pay You $3,000 Per Week To Smoke Marijuana.” It left the story up for a time until they were informed it was fake. But rather than delete the story, The Joint Blog left it up with a small disclaimer about it being a fake.
Fake Marijuana News To Attack Legalization
Fake marijuana news isn’t limited to the cannabis media. Sometimes, leaders in marijuana activism are caught red-handed spreading false information to suit their electoral agenda. That was the case in last year’s election, when Kevin P. Saunders, then a candidate for mayor of Marina, California, and the operator of the Coasterdam medical marijuana dispensary there, produced a fake marijuana news photo meme of Senator Bernie Sanders.
In the meme, which Mr. Saunders posted to Facebook, quoting Sen. Sanders as having said, “If I were a citizen of California, I would never vote for a marijuana monopoly,” at a rally in Vallejo on May 18. Pot-smoking opponents of California’s Prop 64 often falsely derided it as a “monopoly”.
In fact, at the rally in Vallejo, Sen. Sanders had said, “There will be an item on your ballot in November – if I were a citizen of California, I would vote for that ballot item to legalize marijuana.”
When called out on the fabrication, Mr. Saunders wrote, “It’s a devastating meme and will move the numbers a percent or two. And that’s all I need to win this and do the job I was paid to do.” Pressed on what that job was, Mr. Saunders added, “The DAs, Chief, and ‘powers that be’ have put me ‘out front’ and are paying well during the last push.”
Fake Marijuana News Fight Goes Mainstream
Now the mainstream political news sites are picking up on the issue of fake marijuana news as it crosses into the world of presidential politics. The Daily Caller has now reported on the back-and-forth between MassRoots’ Tom Angell and The Joint Blog’s Anthony Martinelli.
“This highlights how lack of media literacy is a real problem—among both everyday readers and sometimes among journalists themselves,” wrote Mr. Angell in an email to High Times.
So, what can our readers who care about accuracy do about the problem of fake marijuana news? Leave comments in the stories you find that are fake, either on the website itself or on the comments where it’s shared on social media. Take the time to do your own due diligence by cross-checking with reliable sources.
Mr. Angell—who covers more marijuana information day-to-day than most humans consume in a month—offers similar advice. “I know that we’re all rushing to read and react to so many news developments coming across our radars every day,” he writes, “but when something seems too good or crazy to be true and it’s from a questionable source, people really should take a few minutes to investigate a bit before passing along links and potentially damaging their own credibility.”
(Speaking of fake marijuana news… nobody claiming to sell you weed in the comments section is legit.)