If You Believed the “37 Dead in Marijuana Overdose” Hoax, You Should Be Ashamed

Jan 4, 2014 | Criminal Justice/Prison-Industrial Complex, Health & Wellness (Physical), Internet Culture, Marijuana Legalization and the War on Drugs

Published: mic (January 4, 2014)

You may have already seen this headline all over social media:

Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization

Already Twitter and Facebook feeds are abuzz with this news item, as right-wingers purr with delight at the opportunity to tweak their left-wing and libertarian friends with proclamations of “I told you so!” Upon further investigation, however, I discovered (SPOILER ALERT!) that the story was a hoax.

I could take the high road here a la Demosthenes, the legendary Greek orator who observed of his critics: “A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.”

Instead I will opt for the more enjoyable route and simply list all of the reasons why anyone who believed this story needs to understand why the word “gullible” is in the dictionary.

For one thing, the source that published the story is clearly a fake news site. Just as The Onion is renowned for using fictional journalism as a vehicle for biting comedy, so too is The Daily Currant a purveyor of satire instead of straight reporting. Indeed, the same Daily Currant page that boasts the false marijuana statistics also includes such hard-hitting and reliable stories as:

Pope Francis Expands Vatican Drone Program

Clay Aiken Joins the Cast of Duck Dynasty

Will Ferrell Parachutes from Space to Promote Anchorman 2

Santorum Producing Straight Remake of Brokeback Mountain

As the “About” section on their website conveniently explains, they produce “purely fictional” stories as their “mission is to ridicule the timid ignorance which obstructs our progress, and promote intelligence – which presses forward.”

While it should go without saying that someone shouldn’t believe a news story without first confirming the credibility of its source, even those who didn’t bother exploring The Daily Currant‘s website could have easily deduced that it was a hoax had they simply bothered to fully read the article itself. Among the many signs that the authors were joking:

– Its sources included a doctor named “Jack Shepard” and a former methamphetamine dealer named “Jesse Bruce Pinkman.” Fans of the TV shows Lost and Breaking Bad should immediately recognize those names.

– It claimed that marijuana use had caused conditions like hypospadias, which is a birth defect affecting the penis, and trimethylaminuria, which is better known as “Fish Odor Syndrome.”

– The “real person” quotes were, for lack of a better word, corny. B-grade horror movies have more nuanced dialogue than some of the gems culled from this piece. Exhibit A: “Someone needs to step in and stop this madness. My god, why did we legalize marijuana? What were we thinking?”

Exhibit B: “Marijuana is a deadly hardcore drug that causes addiction and destroys lives. When was the last time you heard of someone overdosing on beer? All these pro-marijuana groups should be ashamed of themselves. The victims’ blood is on their hands.”

Exhibit C: “We can’t sit idly by and allow this slaughter to continue.”

Finally, there is the simple fact that no one has ever died from a weed overdose.

This isn’t to say that irresponsible use of marijuana can’t lead to fatalities, as is also true of legal drugs like alcohol. In the end, though, the World Health Organization summed it up best when it wrote that based “on existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.” Any argument that can be made against the widespread use of cannabis will, if applied logically and indiscriminately, extend to substances that no large segment of our society wants to see banned. This is no doubt why so many people were quick to believe that marijuana started killing people – after all, if you don’t believe that it is somehow more dangerous than legal drugs, what good reason is there for spending billions of dollars and arresting hundreds of thousands of people for using it?

The words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan are more relevant now than ever:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”