Weed Out Fake News
Feb 10, 2017 03:03PM ● Published by Randy Robinson
In November 2016, Oxford Dictionary declared the term “post-truth” to be the word of the year. “Post-truth” refers to a style of politics based entirely on rhetoric and not at all on facts (sound familiar?), though it’s since been extended to the realm of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, too.
What is this fake news, you ask? We used to think of fake news when scrolling through parody sites like The Onion, but the recent reality is anyone anywhere with even an inkling of web design know-how can create a site that looks “newsy.” These fake news sites are helmed by amateurs with little to no training in journalism, and they basically just craft clickbait stories to generate website traffic and cash.
This fake news can proliferate insanely fast, as we learned during this last election cycle when social media feeds became deluged with bogus news articles ranging from Hillary Clinton being a baby-eating satanist to Vice President Mike Pence supporting electroshock therapy for gays. (In case it needs to be said, neither claim is true.)
Unfortunately, this fake news phenomenon extends to the cannabis community. Every week, a new weed-centered blog pops up. While some of these sites are totally legit, an alarming number of them are not.
What follows is a list of Sensi’s favorite websites for cannabis news and investigative reporting. We’ve selected these not only because of their tried-and-true journalistic integrity but also because these outlets have names that may seem not-so-legitimate at first glance.
Trust us: these are legit.
VICE / /
Although VICE.COM the original site in the Vice Media empire, caters to an edgy hipster crowd, the media company spent the last few years branching out to more grown-up endeavors. Content from Vice’s online subsidiaries such as Vice News, Motherboard, and Broadly sit on the cutting edge of reporting, with plenty of fact-checking and solid sourcing. In the digital realms where video is now king, Vice has trained its investigative lens on the cannabis world for its Emmy-winning eponymous HBO series. On the new Viceland television network, launched last year, the Weediquette docuseries focuses entirely on cannabis patients and the marijuana industries. For a more intimate, personal understanding of how cannabis affects people’s lives, check out Weediquette’s web series at VICELAND.COM.
LEAF SCIENCE //
It seems like every other day, there’s a new study claiming that cannabis can treat some disorder or alleviate some disease. Given that most journalists aren’t trained in science, it’s easy for writers to mistranslate these groundbreaking discoveries when relaying dense information to a mass audience.
LEAFSCIENCE.COM is devoted to the science of technology and medicine surrounding cannabis. The writers excel at breaking down complex concepts into easy-to-digest pieces without getting bogged down in nerdy jargon or Latin names. Best of all, the site typically links directly to the peer-reviewed study it’s discussing—very helpful if you are trained in reading scientific literature.
SMELL THE TRUTH [SF GATE ] //
SMELL THE TRUTH is a news blog attached to SF Gate, the online wing of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, which was founded way back in 1865. Ironically enough, the Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corporation, a media group with a tense relationship with cannabis: the corporation’s founder Randolph Hearst spent much of the 1930s attacking cannabis during the infamous Reefer Madness period. Today, Smell the Truth is one of the most up-to-date news sources for pot developments, especially if you’re looking for short-yet-informative posts. It’s pretty much manned entirely by writer Oscar Pascual, but he includes plenty of links to other credible sources—and only credible sources.
THE CANNABIST //
A division of the Denver Post, the Cannabist is held to the same journalistic standards as its hard-news parent. The brainchild of its former editor in chief Ricardo Baca, the first-ever marijuana editor at a major news organization, the Cannabist launched the last week of 2013 at the dawn of the post-prohibition world. It is fairly balanced in terms of coverage, and its reporters don’t shy from industry scandals or news that cannabis use may carry some dangers. Last fall, it surpassed the iconic High Times in terms of web traffic, making the Cannabist the most visited cannabis-themed site in the world.
SITES TO AVOID
On the flipside, here are some places you want to avoid. We don't even include links to the sites so you aren't temped to spread false info. Please: DO NOT SHARE ARTICLES FROM THESE SITES. WE REPEAT: DO NOT SHARE. (Except for National Report, and then only as satire if you think the people who follow you will understand it to be just that when it pops up in their newsfeed.)
This site is notorious for new-age quackery. Very few of its posts contain credible sources, and its content appears more geared to selling untested “natural” health supplements than to providing solid, reliable news. Beware any claims that cannabis can instantly cure everything from cancer to world poverty.
WORLD NEWS DAILY REPORT
World News Daily Report can be confusing, if only because it weaves real news stories in with the fake ones. This site has published a number of faux articles related to cannabis, including pieces with fearmongering headlines such as “Monsanto Creates First Genetically Modified Strain of Marijuana” and “Colorado: Pot Smoking Festival Turns into Orgy.”
Pegging itself as an “alternative news” site, WORLDTRUTH.TV spews a whole lot of nonsense with poorly formatted center text. A recent article there claimed hemp—the non-psychoactive version of cannabis— is “renewable,” which it is not. No crop is truly renewable, sorry.
National Report isn’t a fake news site, it’s a parody site, much like The Onion. And some of the articles are hilarious. Unfortunately, not everyone is in on the joke just yet, so when posts with titles like “Marijuana Kills! Fatal Strain Claims First Victim” are published, some gullible folks share them as if the satire was real.
Leland's TakeSensi Senior Editor Leland Rucker weighs in about where he finds real news.
I’m naturally suspicious of ideologues and/or reporters who leave out the untidier aspects of their arguments in favor of advocacy, no matter which side they’re on. I’m always watching for writers/reporters whose knowledge surpasses mine and who question things I hold true, and the ones who can admit when their arguments are weak and willing to explain why. Early on, I ran into the work of Jacob Sullum, a reporter whose interest in the subject was as curious as mine but whose understanding was much deeper. I continue to find that curiosity and knowledge in his work, which appears in Reason and Forbes magazines. His essays help challenge my basic beliefs and remind me that there are two sides to every story.
Dozens of online sites post cannabis news. Most keep up with the latest headlines, but I’m seeking more than that, and several online publications and blogs stand out. Among the best are The Cannabist, the Denver Post ’s online cannabis news outlet, and Leafly, which used to offer mostly strain reviews but has beefed up its news coverage in the last year. Both offer solid reporting and editorial comment as well as reviews of cannabis products. Given that The Cannabist’s parent is a holding company trying to sell the newspaper, it’s almost miraculous that it even exists. High Times, a publication I once bought for the huge, perfect nugs depicted on its cover, has improved its news coverage significantly in the last few years. The Drug Policy Alliance is an advocate organization, but its news stories are more in-depth than most.
The MPP blog comes from the Marijuana Policy Project, another organization that is heavily involved in the legalization movement. It keeps me up-to-date on national strategies. I also check in with the Marijuana Business Daily and the NORML blog for updates on cannabis issues.
One final pet peeve: I detest almost all stories that try to use reports, research, and/or data to prove some insignificant point, especially about cannabis usage. Much of this is just clickbait or wishful thinking (“More teens are using pot this year than last year” or “Major crime down in states with legal pot”). People can and do use data to “prove” anything they want. Statistics aren’t facts. They are numbers interpreted by people. They don’t prove anything. Treat them as such. –LELAND RUCKER