CNN’s Don Lemon is under fire for making the elementary observation that some of the Ferguson protesters planning violence and mayhem were smoking pot, according to Cliff Kincaid last week in an article on Accuracy in Media, an American website.

Why? Because linking dope to violence is either taboo for most of the media or something reporters and commentators are simply ignorant of.

Reporting from the scene, CNN’s Lemon had said, “Maybe a minute, two minutes ago we heard a gunshot and watched people scattering. And we’re watching people on the roofs of cars, on the tops of cars and…Obviously there’s a smell of marijuana here as well.”

It was these comments that sparked a fierce backlash on social media, with many members of the online community apparently accusing him of “adding fire to the flames and promoting his own agenda.”

Yet it may well have been the marijuana, not Lemon’s observation, that added fire to the flames. He was just pointing out the obvious. Are journalists supposed to ignore the use of mind-altering substances by demonstrators planning the burning and looting of businesses?

That dope played a role in the August shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri was omitted in The Washington Post’s coverage of the grand jury proceedings that decided against indicting Wilson. DeForest Rathbone, Chairman of the National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy (NICAP), made this point in a letter to the paper:

“… In a glaring example of media bias exacerbating racial tensions in the Michael Brown shooting, Post reporters left out the key exculpatory fact in the grand jury finding officer Darren Wilson not guilty: The fact that Michael Brown tested positive for marijuana, which could explain his irrational violent behavior, not only in the convenience store which he strong-arm robbed while physically attacking the store clerk, but also in provoking the violent confrontation with police officer Darren Wilson,” Rathbone wrote.

The role of cannabis in inducing paranoid and violent behaviour is also routinely ignored in British press reporting.  In a series of attacks since 2000 – most notably the barbaric murder of soldier Lee Rigby –  it has later turned out that the perpetrators were either under the influence of cannabis or habitual users.

Peter Hitchens is the honourable exception to this rule and has been prepared to raise the relationship between cannabis addiction and abuse, mental illness and violence.

He is right to do so. The evidence is indisputably there. In fact it has been in the public domain since the Dunedin Study published its large-scale analysis of mental disorder and violence (Mental Disorders and Violence in a Total Birth Cohort: Results from the Dunedin Study, Louise Arseneault et al. Arch Gen Psychiatry, Vol 57, October 2000, 986)

Its key findings were:

  • Eleven per cent of the sample’s risk of becoming a violent offender was uniquely attributable to alcohol dependence, 28 per cent to marijuana dependence and 9.6 per cent to schizophrenia.
  • Having marijuana dependence and schizophrenia spectrum disorder more than doubled their risk of violence.
  • They were more likely to have used substances before offending, to perceive threat in the environment and to have a history of conduct disorder.

Regardless of whether regular cannabis use was the causative factor in the first place in triggering schizophrenia, it found that for anyone with another mental health condition, cannabis is an aggravating factor as far as violence is concerned.

Cannabis has a paranoia-inducing effect (defined as an excessive belief that other people are trying to harm us) even for those with no history of mental illness at all, a recent Oxford study has confirmed.

What the effects on group behaviour are when a significant section of the crowd is high on cannabis, I don’t know. Nor do I know of any research that would shed light on this.

Rathbone is right. It is high time responsible journalists focused on this problem. As he says: “If it weren’t for the mainstream media’s reverence for the ‘sacred cow’ of marijuana, they would see the valid scientific studies showing that pot is currently being produced in varying strengths from a mildly intoxicating 2 per cent THC up to school-shooter-psychosis-inducing 40-70 per cent THC. And that early childhood use of pot is a major cause of psychosis and violent behaviour…which could be the ‘unknown motive’ frequently cited in news articles on the Ferguson affair.”

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  1. Fascinating, and owing a lot to Peter Hitchens (and none the worse for that). There is a lot in this, for example, the roots of the words ‘assassin’ and ‘thug’. Zulus used a sort of snuff containing cannabinoids.

    I observed in my university life that the cannabis users were often absent or inattentive and performed badly – and this was occasional and social users. If it became daily then their inability to get up of a morning meant that they would inevitably drop out. I never met a cannabis user who was a non-smoker in the tobacco sense, but as to whether it is a slippery slope I cannot say, many tobacco smokers avoid cannabis.Bizarrely, rock stars can hold down lucrative jobs, but they are rarely of the kind that requires an early start in the morning!

    Heavy cannabis use makes the user lethargic and irritable, and you would rarely find one holding down a good job, and they often resort to petty crime to feed their habit, and that costs us many small losses in the community ( window breaking). If it leads to violence and murder, then that is hopefully a small number of cases, but with big losses associated with each incident.

    In the sixties, the aroma of the stuff was less foul than today’s concentrates, and it is no wonder it is called ‘skunk’.

    If there is an effective test for cannabis use, then perhaps it is time that it is treated as an aggravating factor in any crime and penalised accordingly.

  2. Cynical Ex Academic, you are so stereotypical and clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. I have been a regular cannabis user throughout college and university, a daily user (Seven years straight) who has so far achieved a 2:1 and is on track to achieve a 2:1 overall, possibly a first. You will find more often than not that those who cannot get up in the morning are hungover, from alcohol – as marijuana tends to sober off in around 2-4 hours after a joint, you often wake up feeling fresh and able to function through the morning – unlike after a wild night out.

    Your talk of petty crime for cannabis users is biased and holds no truth. I could take an educated guess and say that the crimes and people you talk about are more related to narcotics such as Cocaine, Heroin, etc. Marijuana is not a ‘drug’, it is simply a plant that is smoked – much like tobacco, but without the lung cancer and addiction of nicotine.

    You will find that most cannabis users are regular people, we don’t talk about it to outsiders, you wouldn’t know if we didn’t want you to, and we generally live a happier and overall better life and let you over-protective state-nannys argue among yourselves with over-hyped statistics and ludicrous facts,

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