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Profiles In Prohibition: Journalistic Malpractice in The Mass Media



Article by Richard Cowan, former NORML National Director and author of The Difference Between Full Spectrum CBD And CBD Isolate.


In 1992, when I first became the National Director of NORML, not a single media outlet was reporting on the number of marijuana arrests. We started printing the numbers on every letterhead we sent out. In the three years that I was in Washington, I do not recall a single instance that the numbers were reported.


Whenever we would talk to reporters and told them the numbers, they were surprised. Actually, we were told that they couldn’t write anything about marijuana too often… and certainly nothing “pro-marijuana”, like letting the people know about the crimes being committed in their names.


So I started writing that “The best two-word explanation of marijuana prohibition is Bad Journalism.”  No one has proven me wrong.




Today, there are stories about marijuana/hemp etc, everywhere including the financial news, but there are still very few reports on marijuana arrests (over 500,000 per year, more than for all violent crimes combined.)


As we move toward the full legalization of recreational and medical marijuana, we cannot simply pretend that marijuana prohibition was just a minor historical event. We have had numerous “Commissions” to investigate whether marijuana was dangerous or whether it had any medical value, but it took voter initiatives to override the intransigence of the politicians and the police, organized medicine and the editorial policies (and supposedly objective news reporting) of virtually all of the mass media. 


It is important to note that this was certainly not exclusive to the US. The best newspapers in the UK, and around the world all followed the “Party Line.” 


Younger readers may not recognize that term, but for decades the Soviet Communists openly recognized the importance of the Party’s position as the “Party Line.” Its maintenance was a major topic in Orwell’s 1984



At least the various official propagandists had the excuse that they had to obey the regime, or else. The media in the “Free World” had no such excuse. They simply failed to do their jobs, while preening themselves as the champions of the public. Perhaps the most important question in democracies is simply “Who watches the watchmen.”


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase found in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires. It is literally translated as "Who will guard the guards themselves?"


Journalists were supposed to be our guardians, but they failed not only the public but also the key principles of journalism and the institutions of democracy. 




At the editorial level, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and almost every newspaper in the world, parroted the prohibitionist propaganda. All of them ran Op-Eds by the US Drug Czars and their deputies. 


These are the same people who run fact-checking on a President who almost never tells the truth, and they cannot understand why so many poor people don’t believe them. After all they are the ones who have been harmed the most by his policies. 


Why don’t “The People” believe them? Look at your archives. Look at the FBI arrest data. Look at the Vets with PTSD. And look in the mirror.


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