Why Journalists And The Media Have To Become More Informed About Weed Before Passing Judgment

Why Journalists And The Media Have To Become More Informed About Weed Before Passing Judgment
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Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, hosts MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” a talk show that, while not very popular among certain viewers, is beloved by media elites in New York and Washington DC.

Salon’s Alex Pareene described the spectacle as, “Scarborough’s wacky morning show cocktail party — are they or aren’t they spiking their coffee, is a question they are all really hoping anyone is asking — isn’t just an endless parade of conventional wisdom-spouting morons feebly discussing the day’s political news.” Two days after Colorado became the newest state to allow the sale of recreational marijuana, Scarborough proved Pareene right when he said, “I don’t get the legalization thing. I don’t want to get too much into it, I mean, seriously, it just makes you dumb. Pot just makes you dumb.” But, what if Scarborough’s diagnosis is true?

Last year, Duke University researchers released a study that reported “persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife.” But researchers in Norway dispute the Duke report and claim it did not take into account several components like how poverty may have affected a subject’s neuropsychological status.

The Duke study also used IQ, a highly controversial vehicle for measuring intelligence, as a baseline. But, Scarborough did not employ the disputed study in his ramblings. Instead, he said that weed makes you dumb because his friends who lit up in college and played musical instruments were dumb.

And when asked by someone on set if drinking alcohol makes a person dumb, Scarborough was confused (which he is often), before he admitted, “I think in large amounts it makes you dumb.” The University of Alabama graduate did not, apparently, pick up on the incoherence of his argument. To be clear, there is no definitive evidence — absolutely none — to support Scarborough’s unlettered and lazy claim that smoking weed makes one dumb.

Scarborough was not the only media character to embarrass himself with specious and irrelevant claims about marijuana use. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that Colorado had enhanced “individual freedom” by legalizing recreational cannabis. “But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be,” Brooks added. Who is David Brooks to declare that a person who fires up occasionally is not being the person he or she wants to be?

Brooks also admitted to smoking weed as a younger man; His weed smoking did not prevent him from becoming a smug newspaper columnist. Brooks is dead wrong when he implies that weed ruins lives. The unjust and racist enforcement of stupid prohibition laws, which disproportionately puts young black and Latino people in jail, is more responsible for destroying the futures than any recreational drug could.

Outgoing Daily Beast editor Tina Brown joined the marijuana prohibition club when she tweeted “legal weed contributes to us [sic] being a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese.” Yes, weed – not processed sugar and toxic fast-food, or subpar education and schools, or working more than 40 hours per week for poor wages – plays an instrumental role in America ceding its global shot-caller status to the dastardly Chinese.

I was in Boston visiting some friends the first time I smoked weed. We were all sitting around watching a rerun of “Seinfeld” – the episode when Jon Voigt bites Kramer – when our host unveiled his three-foot ice bong. I swore then and I swear now it was the most hilarious television viewing experience of my life.

I had never fully appreciated “Seinfeld’s” humor until that night. I did not feel dumb, but the musings of tired baby boomers like Scarborough, Brooks and Brown cannot be ignored, given the role these people play in shaping the metanarrative surrounding a host of issues — not merely marijuana prohibition. Journalists have an obligation to be knowledgeable about the issues on which they write, speak and tweet.

Otherwise very little separates the ignorant loudmouth on the street from the ignorant loudmouth on the silver screen and in the papers.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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Juan Thompson

Juan Thompson is a graduate of Vassar College who is taking a break from law school while he gives journalism and writing, his first passions, a shot. His freelance work and opinions have appeared on DNAinfo, Daily Kos and in Chicago Mag. When he's not reading the news or watching Danish political dramas, he is writing his memoir, It Hurts Even More in French, which was recently picked up by Crown Publishing.

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