The Associated Press's Supermarijuana Meets Its Kryptonite


The AP story I blogged about last month about supposed superhybrid marijuana strains in Mexico–which various commenters here were, wisely, skeptical about—gets a full and hearty slam from Jack Shafer over at Slate, longtime expert at debunking crappy, breathless mainstream reporting on drugs. Some excerpts:

…..A "new high-yield hybrid" that is "genetically improved" sounds scientific, even coming out of the mouth of a Mexican general. But what does it really mean? Hybrids are created whenever planters crossbreed varieties of a plant or between species, and by definition the successful ones are "genetically improved."…..

Should we be impressed with the supergrass's high yield? AP reports that "traffickers can now produce as much marijuana on a plot the size of a football field as they used to harvest from four or five hectares (10 to 12 acres)."……A football field—exclusive of its two end zones—covers a little over an acre. If AP is saying that growers now produce as much pot planting the hybrid on one acre as they once did planting conventional marijuana (whatever that is) on 10 acres, I say, so what? Why attribute the higher yield to the hybrid alone? Smaller plots of most crops outyield larger plots because planters tend to extend more TLC to each plant under cultivation, whether the plant is marijuana or tomatoes.

One clue that TLC—and not an exotic hybrid—should deserve credit for higher yields in the Mexican plantation can be found in the long version of the AP article. Not every newspaper carried AP's paragraph about some of the raided plots having "sophisticated irrigation systems with sprinklers, pumps and thousands of yards (meters) of tubing." Irrigated plots tend to produce greater yields than nonirrigated plots, a fact mankind has appreciated for 4,000 years…..

Finally, Gen. Garcia alleges that the Dracuweed is resistant to herbicide, although he doesn't say which herbicide. As every farmer and cultivator of weed-free lawns knows, plants develop resistance to herbicides via natural selection, without any guidance from breeders. If growers have deliberately bred a herbicide-resistant plant or exploited one that they discovered, I'd love AP to get a botanist—as opposed to a Mexican general—to confirm it……

I should have known better than to link to the AP's report so uncritically or to take it at all seriously.