In our current social and political climate, we need to know how to filter out fake news. But before we get into that, below is one of our very favorite things in the whole world: A cop tweet.
— SLC Metro Narcotics (@SLC_MNTF) November 7, 2017
See here—it’s as clear as day. According to the Salt Lake City Metro Narcotics task force, Colorado’s children and teens started smoking more weed after the state’s adult voters legalized marijuana. Look at the charts. It’s in the data!
Forget for a second that the chart didn’t actually say anything of the kind and had nothing to do with youth use at all. Surely it stands to reason: More legal marijuana means more kids using it. Let’s take a look at other states, where—
.@CPeoplesStokes highlights how in states that have legalized marijuana, youth use has remained steady or dropped following legal access.
— SMART-NY (@startsmartNY) November 14, 2017
Ah yes. As we were saying: Let’s look in other states, where—
Leaked federal law enforcement report admits Washington State youth & adult marijuana treatment admissions sharply down since legalization. pic.twitter.com/A087w1EPrR
— Tom Angell (@tomangell) October 29, 2017
The Hidden Costs of Marijuana Legalization – 10% Increase in Youth Marijuana Use in CO.https://t.co/mlZAC91ebp pic.twitter.com/8PqcGejjl5
— Stfd Partnership (@StfdPartnership) October 19, 2017
By now you see the problem. What does marijuana legalization do to kids, exactly?
We live in an age of alternative facts, fake news and going ahead and believing whatever you want to believe, regardless of the source, as long as it fits your warped narrative.
So who’s right on this question? Are teens and kids smoking more weed or not? And who’s the authority on this?
Here’s how to filter out fake news, especially regarding youth and marijuana.
Consider The Source
The first short answer is that it depends on your source—particularly if that source is biased and has a clear motive in this “debate.”
The cop tweet is a great example.
You will be shocked to find out that most law-enforcement agencies aren’t quite coming around to the idea of drug-policy reform. Maybe it has something to do with how legalization will make it more difficult to seize vast amounts of cash and property from everyday Americans.
Whatever their motive, stated or subconscious, it shouldn’t shock you that the SLC-area drug cops started with a narrative and then went seeking information, however selective or distorted, to fit.
Still wondering how to filter out fake news?
Take a peek at that chart again. They cribbed their information from one of America’s leading anti-legalization outfits. Project SAM is run by a former staffer of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is forbidden by Congress from advocating for legalization. For its anti-weed Bible, SAM has been relying on data from the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), a law-enforcement effort that’s under the purview of… the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
So forget that data anytime you see it. Put it in the rubbish bin. It’s tainted.
It also contradicts the calm and steady messaging from Colorado’s governor and chief health officer, neither of whom were fans of legalization, and both of whom maintain that legalization didn’t really change much in the Rocky Mountain State in terms of public health.
So what do you believe? Who should you believe? If your mind isn’t already hopelessly lost to confirmation bias, you may have a chance at intellectual honesty.
Here’s what we advise.
How To Filter Out Fake News
Look for strength in numbers. If five studies say one thing compared to a lone dissenting outlier, the “preponderance of the data” suggests the majority opinion is right. Look for sources without a clear bias—and see how deep and broad their data goes.
Another tip on how to filter out fake news is parsing the language carefully (i.e., read more than the headline) when you read items like these before making a broad conclusion.
Look at the leaked law-enforcement chart above tweeted by the Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell. Here’s the takeaway: “Youth & adult marijuana treatment admissions sharply down since legalization.” Is that indicative of use? Not really. Not at all, actually. This is about admission to treatment.
As far as the National Institute on Drug Abuse knows, marijuana is still roughly “nine percent addictive,” meaning about nine percent of people who smoke weed will become dependent. So that hasn’t changed—and the chart doesn’t say that either.
Not always, but in many instances, a judge will punish a first-time or low-level drug offender with a fine, probation—or treatment. Now that low-level marijuana possession is no longer a crime but a legal right, there are fewer judges in a position to make such a choice.
That would explain why fewer people are being sent to weedhab.
Good Facts Aren’t Hard To Find
And now here’s an item from HealthDay. Let’s see what boxes it checks. This source isn’t government or an activist group, and so it doesn’t seem to have a political bent with regard to legalization. And the findings? Researchers crunched data that’s tracked teen attitudes towards cannabis from 1991 to the present—and found that most teens “shun pot.”
“It’s known that U.S. teenagers’ pot use has held fairly steady over the past decade—even though kids have become increasingly more likely to believe the drug is harmless,” HealthDay reported. “Teenagers today are not using pot in droves because they are much less likely to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol than their predecessors were.”
Researchers here went deep and broad. To draw their conclusions, they parsed data that’s tracked teen substance-use habits since 1991. As per this study, published on Nov. 6 in the journal Pediatrics, for about a decade, the percentage of high-school seniors who say they’ve used marijuana once in the past year has hovered at a “stubborn” 30 percent.
About that decade: Only recovering anchorites need be reminded that the last 10 years have seen Americans’ attitudes on cannabis undergo a remarkable evolution. During that same time, according to researchers using the most and best data, youth use has remained remarkably constant.
At times, you will hear otherwise. Perhaps honest researchers without a motive will discover differently. When and if they do, you’ll know how to filter out fake news. And you’ll be able to parse the difference—and filter out the discordant noise from the honest answers.