Media Criticism

One Day After DEA Raids 71 Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, CNN Declares Drug War Is Over

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On Wednesday, Sept. 26, CNN's Out Front With Erin Burnett ran a segment titled "No more 'War on Drugs.'" The segment begins with CNN reporter John Zarrella narrating footage of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter disabling a boat carrying marijuana. "This was the mid 1980s," Zarrella says. "The drug war was at its height."

Zarella continues talking in the past tense, saying, "Then Vice President george bush headed up a task force to fight the problem….Stash houses and drug labs were routinely raided. That was a war on drugs. These days, it's not even a war of words. The White House doesn't even call it a war on drugs anymore, focusing instead on prevention."  The rest of the segment is dedicated to a single drug court in Broward County, Florida, and the many lives it has saved.

What Zarrella may not know is that the day before his CNN segment ran, the Drug Enforcement Administration launched a coordinated crackdown on 71 medical marijuana dispensaries in and around Los Angeles, bringing the total number of California dispensaries closed this year to over 800.

Perhaps Zarrella omitted this breaking news update from his package because he didn't see it, or it was too late to address it. 

Or maybe Zarrella did see the DEA story, and deemed it consistent with his claim that the Obama administration is changing the way it allocates funding for the prosecution of drug users. (This theory assumes that Zarrella believes there's an explicit moral difference between the adult who uses illegal drugs and the adult who sells illegal drugs. There is no difference.) 

What's not forgivable is Zarrella's omission of Obama's draconian drug war record, evidence of which goes back weeks, months, and years.

Now, as "in the mid-1980s," the U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy engage drug traffickers in the Caribbean. Now, as in the mid-1980s, stash houses and drug labs are routinely raided by federal agents. Not only is the present a lot like the past, but the (very problematic) drug court model that Zarrella praises isn't unique to Obama–federal drug court funding dates back to Clinton, was supported by Bush, and even appeared in the Republicans' 2008 platform and 2012 platforms. 

If there is anything familiar truth in Zarrella's report from a reality that does not exist, it is that drug policy has failed to break into the Top 50 Or So Issues Journalists Consider Important In This Presidential Election. Were journalists to ask Romney or Obama about drug policy, stories like Zarrella's would perhaps get a little more scrutiny from editors.