By Van Smith
Baltimore, Jan. 14, 2019
Lester Black is the Stranger‘s hard-partying staff writer, and boy-howdy was he spot on about something recently: the anti-pot scaremongering that’s been hitting the headlines of late is fueled by the release of cannabis-contrarian Alex Berenson’s book-length polemic, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, and Berenson’s recent editorial, “What Advocates of Legalizing Pot Don’t Want You to Know,” published by his alma mater, the New York Times. In the nuance-averse ecosystem that is our fast-click media landscape these days, Berenson’s fighting screeds quickly were picked up and bounced around prominently as products of deeply researched science-based journalism done by a pro. Just as quickly, Black shot the story full of holes.
Black exposed how Berenson repeatedly conflated correlation and causation when looking at science and data. Confusing the two can lead to drastically different, or even diametrically opposed, policymaking outcomes, hamstringing society’s best intentions. And confusing the two, whether purposefully or out of ignorance, can also dupe editors at top publications into running baseless stories that, while they look and smell sophisticated, are in effect fake news feeding nonexistent controversies. There’s no question science needs to gather and understand much more evidence about cannabis use, and let the paths to policy lead us sensibly, but Berenson only succeeded in convincing many that false flags were actual threats.
As Black writes, “We need people to be critical about our policy decisions, and we need scientists to keep studying what happens when we smoke pot (and if they keep looking, they will likely keep finding new benefits). But people like Berenson who merely have a book to sell and don’t care who they damage in the process don’t deserve to be listened to. And the media blitz surrounding Berenson’s book clearly shows how much East Coast media circles need to learn about pot.”