Is the Coverage of Medical Marijuana Fair in Newspapers Across America
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Although the federal law has prohibited the use and distribution of marijuana in the United States since 1937, for the past five decades states have been experimenting with marijuana liberalization polices. State decriminalization policies were first passed in the 1970s, patient medical access laws began to get adopted in the 1990s, and more recently states have been experimenting with legalization of recreational markets. This has resulted in a spectrum of marijuana liberalization policies across the United States that is often not fully recognized or considered when conducting evaluations of recent policy changes. Consider for example the state of marijuana policies in the United States at a single point of time.
Charges of sensationalism are not unique to stories about substance use: mainstream health reporting has been cited for exacerbating social and political power differentials (Kline 2006), and for contributing to the stigma associated with illness, and for portraying certain conditions as threats to ‘normalcy’ (e.g. mental illness). Media reporting has more than just discursive effects because its representations of illicit drug use primarily as a criminal choice, rather than as a public health concern, have contributed, in part, to the social exclusion of drug users from mainstream society. Focused primarily on representations of the people who grow and sell marijuana, their analysis of the truth claims made by local spokespersons (i.e. law enforcement personnel and politicians) suggests that newspaper stories neglect the structural causes of illicit drug selling, and instead present the issues through a narrow ‘law and order’ discourse that lends itself to calls for harsher legal penalties (Carter 2009). Acevedo (2007) analyzed media messages regarding the UK government’s re-classification of cannabis in 2004 and 2005.
But it would be unlikely to make raw marijuana possession or cultivation by individuals any less illegal under federal law. And it likely would do little to end the standoff between the feds and the states that have legalized cannabis.
Carter, C. 2009. “Making Residential Cannabis Growing Operations Actionable: A Critical Policy Analysis.” International Journal of Drug Policy 20(4): 371–376.
Bright, S. J., A. Marsh, L. M. Smith, and B. Bishop. 2008. “What can We Say about Substance Use? Dominant Discourses and Narratives Emergent from Australian Media.” Addiction Research and Theory 16(2): 135–148.
Acevedo, B. 2007. “Creating the Cannabis User: A Post-structuralist Analysis of the Re-classification of Cannabis in the United Kingdom (2004–2005).” International Journal of Drug Policy 18(3): 177–186