Fox 31 Report Angers Stoners, Pot Supporters

The story lasted only a few minutes and was placed at the end of an hour-long evening news broadcast on Denver’s Fox 31 channel. But in the end, it was caught and criticized by marijuana legalization supporters.

Now legalization proponents are crying foul, saying the news piece in question, about an increase in pot’s potency, was inaccurate and completely one-sided.

On Tuesday, August 7, the local Fox channel aired one of its “Fox Files,” reporting that marijuana was steadily increasing in potency. The story showcased Jill Morton, a middle-aged former “pot head” (her words) who testified that the drug was stronger than when she first encountered it at age 11.

“The story was chock-full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations,” says Mason Tvert with SAFER Colorado, a pro-legalization group. Tvert caught wind of the piece before it aired and watched the broadcast live.

One of the problems he says, was concerning the chemical Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces the high when marijuana is consumed.

“[The reporter] said that marijuana growers have ‘altered the chemical in marijuana (THC)’ to make it more potent, leading viewers to think this THC is somehow different than THC 30 years ago,” Tvert says. “It’s the same old chemical, there’s just more of it in some types of marijuana, much like there is a higher percentage of alcohol in some beer.”

FOX reporter Steve Kelley voiced the story, although he says he took no part in producing it.

“Of course, when I look at the story I want to understand what’s going on,” says Kelley, who characterized the broadcast as being an anecdotal piece on a former marijuana user. “The sub-story is marijuana being twice as potent as it was a decade or two ago,” he says.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America provided information for the piece, which ultimately came from a research program funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal government organization that releases findings on drugs like marijuana.

“The only sources used for this story were an anti-marijuana organization with ties to those who campaign against reform efforts, an undercover narcotics officer, and a woman in her forties who smoked an ounce of weed every week from the time she was eleven,” says Tvert, who was not contacted as a source for the story.”

Although Fox anchor Kelley says he doesn’t speak on behalf of the station, he knows where the Partnership for a Drug-Free America rests on the issue.

“Naturally, they’re going to be one-sided, they’re against everything that SAFER stands for,” he says.

But not even Becky Vance, who works with the Partnership, will go so far as Fox to say that THC itself is actually being altered.

“The people that grow marijuana have cultivated it to increase the content of THC, so it’s super potent,” Vance says, claiming that marijuana today is far more potent than the drug individuals might have smoked in the 1960s or 70s.

According to Vance, the Partnership will be reaching out to Denver media outlets in two weeks to promote their “Time To Talk” campaign, which is supposed to offer parents support for talking with their children about drugs.

But despite the new campaign, the Partnership has already found success with Fox in getting its message out, although it may be slightly different than what the anti-drug organization was actually reporting.

Meanwhile, marijuana legalization supporters will be keeping a vigilant eye on the evening news, making sure their point-of-view gets fair air time.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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