It was just a passing comment.
“Police said they think that these people who were involved here were possibly smoking marijuana,” said Shannon Bream on a recent episode of The O’Reilly Factor.
Bream was reporting on an attack in Chicago documented in a Facebook Live video. Four individuals are now charged with hate crimes, kidnapping and aggravated battery, among other offenses.
Law enforcement officials and politicians were quick to condemn the “sickening” and “reprehensible” video. But what does marijuana have to do with it?
Media outlets often over-rely on law enforcement sources when it comes to reporting on drugs. Sometimes, this results in humorous coverage—like when a local news station in Kentucky did a story on “Super Marijuana” (AKA cannabis concentrates).
“You can eat it on bread in some form, and you can smoke it also,” the county sheriff said.
While cannabis consumers will find the idea of spreading some dabs on a piece of toast laughable, news outlets often take law enforcement at their word when reporting on illicit drugs.
More detrimental, however, is the association of marijuana use with violence.
In reports of violent crime, viewers don’t hear as often that the perpetrator “may have been drinking a beer,” even though alcohol plays a greater role in violent crime.
According to data from the Justice Department, alcohol is a factor in 28 percent of violent crimes. Illicit drugs were a factor in seven percent of violent crime. In intimate partner violence, alcohol was a factor in 55 percent of crimes.
Various sources of data have found a high correlation between alcohol use and violence. Meanwhile, studies have shown that couples who smoke weed together have significantly lower rates of domestic violence.
Reports like that from Bream offer fodder for prohibitionists, who like to point out whenever cannabis is involved with a violent crime. Those reports miss the bigger picture that alcohol is a much greater factor in such crimes than illicit substances.
“I’ve come into close contact with many intoxicated heroin and marijuana users,” wrote Harold Pollack, a public health professor at the University of Chicago. “In these moments, I’ve never had reason to feel that my safety was at risk. I have been present for some scary incidents. Almost every time, alcohol was in the mix.”
We can all agree that the crimes perpetrated in the Facebook Live video were reprehensible. Let’s hope as legalization spreads around the country, people will see that marijuana is not a cause for concern.
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