One of the aspects of the film “The Culture High” that makes it my favorite drug war documentary is the section where the filmmakers investigate the role the media play in shaping our discussions of adult marijuana prohibition. Newspapers, television, radio, and websites all have methods they employ to frame the narrative around marijuana, whether it is the ubiquitous use of the pot-pun in the headline to make our issue seem frivolous or continuing to employ terms like “dope” and “drug” to make our issue seem dangerous.
A perfect example of the latter can be found this week at Miami’s WSVN, Channel 7. Their headline reads “‘Pot princess’ sentenced to 24 years in fatal wrong-way crash”. If you’re just scanning the headlines or heard this on the TV news, what have you learned? “Pot… fatal… crash…” has just been planted in your subconscious. Marijuana leads to stoned mayhem on the freeways!
So you read a little further into the lede paragraph:
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) — The woman responsible for killing two South Florida women in a fatal wrong-way crash minutes after taking to social media to post she was “2 drunk 2 care” has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Wait a minute, now you’re confused. “2 drunk 2 care”, texted the “Pot Princess”? So, which is it, was she drunk or was she stoned or was it both? Let’s continue to paragraph 2:
Twenty-two-year-old Kayla Mendoza, who described herself on her Twitter account where she sent that message as the “Pot Princess,” had pled guilty to two counts of DUI manslaughter in the Nov. 17, 2013 death of Kaitlyn Ferrante and Marisa Catronio, both 21.
Now it’s even murkier. She just calls herself “Pot Princess” in her Twitter bio? But she tweeted “2 drunk 2 care” from that account and has pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter? Was it DUI for alcohol, for marijuana, or for both? How is Mendoza’s Twitter bio relevant in any way?
Paragraph 3 tells us how the family mourns. Paragraph 4 tells us about Mendoza’s crash injuries and the two fatalities. Paragraph 5 tells us the father of one of the dead women still mourns. Paragraph 6 tells us that both families still mourn. Paragraph 7 tells us one woman’s brother can never forgive Mendoza. If you’re easily distractible or on a tight schedule, maybe this is as far as you read the sad story of two women killed by the “Pot Princess” who texted “2 drunk 2 care”.
Only if you made it to Paragraph 8 do you learn:
According to court records, Mendoza had been drinking at a Coral Springs restaurant prior to the crash. Her blood alcohol record was nearly twice the legal limit, recorded at .15. She had been traveling for several miles at over 80 miles per hour. Mendoza also had traces of marijuana in her system, according to Florida Highway Patrol.
So, a woman who was twice the legal alcohol limit and texted “2 drunk 2 care” before speeding the wrong way on an expressway and killing two women gets memorialized in the headline as “Pot Princess”. A woman with mere traces of what were likely metabolites of marijuana in her system, which couldn’t have possibly affected her like the impairment from Florida’s favorite legal drug, gets tagged in the headline with a snippet of her Twitter bio rather than the damning tweet from her Twitter account.
“Woman ‘2 drunk 2 care’ gets 24 years for fatal wrong-way crash” is just one character longer than the “Pot Princess” headline and it’s far more representative of the gist of the story. But it doesn’t frighten an electorate that’s going to pass medical marijuana in 2016, now, does it?