Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet: Getting it Wrong on Medical Marijuana

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Last week, a story came up on my facebook news feed reporting that NBA star Blake Griffin had slapped Justin Bieber in an LA Starbucks. Numerous online sources reported that the Biebs had gone into the coffee shop shirtless and with his underwear exposed, got mouthy after he was refused a Caramel Macchiato, and threw a fit, which led to Griffin’s alleged smackdown.

Sounds plausible, right? Although hundreds of media sources reposted and retweeted and reshared the story, it was a hoax.

It happens occasionally these days on the internet: a story is posted somewhere, and in the rush to spread the latest news, the media loses the truth in the shuffle. Sometimes stories that miss the facts start off as hoaxes, like the Starbucks Bieber story, or the hoax story about marijuana overdose deaths in Colorado. And sometimes, when something is incorrectly reported online, it’s a simple misunderstanding or clerical error.

But in the age of the information superhighway, the end results are the same in either scenario: misinformation spreads like wildfire, and often creates widespread public perception that is just plain incorrect. And for inaccurately reported stories that don’t feature a star like Bieber who has a publicist working on damage control in real time, public misperception can linger indefinitely, much to the frustration of individuals who know the real story.

While it’s not as juicy a story as Bieber’s, this has happened recently in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana community. Numerous news sources from local newspapers to cannabis industry blogs have reported that Pennsylvania has pending CBD-only legislation. And Pennsylvania advocates, who have worked diligently to help create a broad-based medical marijuana bill, are now working diligently to debunk these rumors.

“I have to admit, it has been very frustrating for us in PA to read articles from all over the country that have somehow pinned us down as having CBD only legislation,” says Dana Ulrich, a Pennsylvania advocate who helped to draft the state’s medical marijuana bill, SB 1182. “This has not been and never will be our goal.”

The bill is available to the public online at the Pennsylvania State Legislature website, and it is clearly not CBD-only bill.

However, with pending legislation of various types in numerous states, it can be safely assumed that not all journalists have read every single version of every single bill they are reporting on, especially if a state bill just gets a brief mention in an article. Instead, reporters in the new media paradigm often base stories on what has already been reported in other media outlets. This becomes a problem when initial reports are incorrect, and as stories are shared virally, reblogged, and re-reported, the misinformation becomes embedded in the mind of the public.

So where did rumors about SB 1182-as-CBD-only start?

Ulrich believes that early facebook discussions about potential legislation in Pennsylvania may be to blame.

“If I had to guess, it came from social media,” she says, “but also from Senators Folmer and Leach (the bill’s sponsors). Though they mean well and they do not intend to deceive anyone, many of their interviews revolve around the children and their need for high CBD strains like Charlotte’s Web. Because so much focus is on the children I can see how some would assume that we are seeking CBD-only legislation. One incorrect story just precipitates another and so on and so forth – it’s like a ‘whisper down the lane’ scenario or a game of ‘operator’ where the truth gets lost in translation.”

Derek Rosenzweig of Philly NORML agrees with Ulrich that recent buzz about CBD among legislators might be to blame. “Because the legislators have been focusing on the children with epilepsy, people can get the wrong impression,” says Rosenzweig. “The bill will definitely help the children with higher-CBD strains and extracts, but it will also help every other patient the same way it does in other states.”

Rosensweig recently wrote an article for the Philly Norml blog about SB 1182, in an attempt to clarify that the bill is not a CBD-only bill. Interestingly, other media sources have actually referred to the article as confirmation that SB 1182 is a push for CBD-only, quoting Rosenzweig’s editorial comments as bill text.

Confused yet? You’re not alone. So are many journalists and advocates…and concerned parents, who have contacted Dana Ulrich with questions about the bill’s intent.

“I feel very fortunate that the cannabis community looks after each other the way that they do and have alerted me to articles that may perpetuate false information about SB 1182,” says Ulrich. “I would suggest trying to reach out to the authors of the articles any way you can and politely inform them of the errors in the articles, and ask that they try to right these wrongs.”

According to Ulrich, the writers she has contacted have been open and accessible, and have appreciated her input.

Russ Belville, who in a recent High Times internet article listed Pennsylvania as one of the states currently where CBD-only legislation has been introduced, was “apologetic, and offered me an interview on his 420 Radio Show to make sure that any misinformation is corrected,” Ulrich explains.

Ladybud Magazine contacted Belville to ask where he had gotten his information about Pennsylvania, and he pointed us to an article from the Pittsburg Tribune-Review, which indeed clearly states that “Sens. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, and Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, will introduce legislation to legalize medical marijuana with a high ratio of CBD.”

And indeed, a google search with the keywords CBD Pennsylvania SB 1182 yields hundreds of articles – many of them from generally reliable industry sources – that have the story all wrong. At this point, it hardly matters where the misinformation started, or why. What is important is setting the record straight.

While this Ladybud article surely won’t by seen by everyone who has read the wrong story about Pennsylvania – or even everyone who has written the wrong story – by sharing this piece, or Ladybud‘s companion piece explaining the bill’s text, perhaps we can work together to make things in Pennsylvania a little more clear.