There are so many websites that market themselves as satire news these days, it’s difficult to keep track of the true and the false, and it certainly doesn’t help that the real news is sometimes stranger than fiction. One recent fake-news piece by the questionably-ethical National Report garnered thousands of shares, mainstream news mentions, and backlash as if what they reported was actually true—that Colorado Governor John W. Hickenlooper would be releasing all marijuana offenders from state prisons and expunging their records.
Marijuana headlines are at an all-time high as states are considering and passing legislation regarding the medical applications, possession, cultivation, and recreational use of the plant and its derivatives. As Colorado is one of only two states to have thus far legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, and is home to the first legal retail pot shops, for many it seemed entirely plausible that the governor there would release marijuana offenders.
But let’s get real. Legalizing marijuana was a groundbreaking move for the state of Colorado. Everything that’s happened since—from the opening of marijuana stores to the report that projects state revenue on the plant to reach $100 million in the first year—these all of it has been “firsts”. But to think that a state official would not only release people convicted of crimes, but erase their criminal histories with expungement is a significant jump, even for Colorado.
Articles published by websites like the National Report frequently fool readers. After this article was published, Gov. Hickenlooper’s office was flooded with phone calls from people who wanted to show their support for the Governor’s reported feelings of leniency. Staffers truly had no idea what was going on.
While I’m reluctant to praise any of this fake-journalism that is a weak attempt at humor and seems like more of an attempt to blur the lines between what’s real and what isn’t (a la mainstream media’s propagandist coverage), the National Report piece did bring up a good point.
Far more lives have been ruined by marijuana laws than by marijuana itself. As a matter of fact, no single overdose or death has ever been attributed to the use of marijuana (until recently, allegedly). But, years and lives have been spent in prison thanks to punitive laws that do more harm than good. The American Civil Liberties Union estimated that DC alone, which has recently decriminalized marijuana possession, spent $26.5 million enforcing the possession law. This is just one location in the U.S.
Is it likely that any state would free inmates convicted of marijuana offenses on a massive scale? Absolutely not, but changing marijuana laws could be fodder for appeals based on penalties way outside of the norm—penalties like the life sentence being served by Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man with no history of violence. Further, these changing laws and the attitudes that change with them could lessen the impact a marijuana conviction has on someone’s ability to get a job or find an apartment—both factors that are known to predicate a potential life of crime.
Though Colorado pot offenders will not be released from jail or prison on any sort of massive scale, the number of people being sent into the system for marijuana charges is already being affected by the recent law changes. And really, that improvement alone is enough to celebrate, no fake, comical headlines needed.