Over 75 years after a radio broadcast threw America into a panic over a fictional Martian invasion, a spoof piece achieved a similar thing by causing people to believe scores of people had died from pot overdoses.
The rapidness with which the story spread and was believed shows that, while technology may have changed, the power of the media is just as relevant as it once was.
In 1938 Orson Welles performed a radio drama of H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” for Mercury Theatre on the Air on Halloween night. Despite the broadcast stating it was a drama millions of people panicked, believing that Martians really were attacking the country.
A similar thing occurred when The Daily Currant reported that 37 people had died in marijuana overdoses on the first day of pot legalization in Colorado.
“According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News, 37 people were killed across the state on Jan. 1, the first day the drug became legal for all adults to purchase. Several more are clinging onto life in local emergency rooms and are not expected to survive.”
The story quickly went viral and appeared on social media pages prompting concern across the country. This reporter even received a call from a city official in Evans, Colorado asking if the story was true after receiving a posting from a friend on their Facebook page. The city currently does not allow any pot dispensaries to operate within city limits.
The Currant states in its “About” section that its stories are not meant to be taken as real news stories. “Our stories are purely fictional. However they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world.”
However, even if the site did not have the disclaimer, it was evident from the beginning of the story that something wasn’t quite right. The second paragraph referenced a report in the Rocky Mountain News as its source. While it is common for news sites to credit other media outlets for a story, there is just one problem, the Rocky Mountain News ceased publication in 2009. The name was well-known among journalists, as it was the oldest running paper in Colorado, predating statehood.
Additionally, the Currant article references a Dr. Jack Shephard as saying “We are seeing cardiac arrests, hypospadias, acquired trimethylaminuria and multiple organ failures. By next week the death toll could go as high as 200, maybe 300. Someone needs to step in and stop this madness. My god, why did we legalize marijuana? What were we thinking?”
Dr. Jack Shephard was a fictional character on the television series Lost, however the hospital was real. The story prompted St. Luke’s to issue a statement affirming there was no such person on staff.
While there are legitimate concerns over the legalization of marijuana, overdosing is not one of them. In fact, according to authorities, there is not a single recorded death from a pot overdose. However, this does not mean that critics do not have valid issues with the legalization of pot. Recent reports indicate that there is an alarming increase in the number of children using marijuana since the stigma has now been removed with its legalization.