Arizona Republic’s Accidental Consumption Coverage Misses Key Post-Legalization Issues

In this edition of Canna-Bias, we look at recent news that has made the rounds in the mainstream media, regarding cannabis candy being accidentally consumed by children in states where it has been legalized.

Item in question:

the Arizona Republic the item,”‘They look like candy’: Call for poison for children who use marijuana is on the rise in Maricopa County,(July 12, 2021) describes an increase in reported cases of children who accidentally consumed cannabis-infused products.

Presence of bias:

This article contains two types of bias: the context and omission bias. The article fails to put several issues into perspective or provide additional information that might be less alarming.

Ideal, Baseline and Proof: Ideal for any article focusing on post-legalization issues related to the ingestion of cannabis edibles by children would not include a clickbait headline, such as “They look like candy…” of the Republic, as the title implies that the products are created by the cannabis manufacturer with the intention of appealing to children.

While the infused gummies are candies, parents are expected to carry the burden of keeping their children safe – just as they would colorful, fruit-flavored alcoholic beverages kept in their fridge, such as hard cider. Cannabis companies, by and large, don’t want kids consuming their products, but they can’t control who has access to their products once they leave their business.

Additionally, the state of Arizona has just legalized cannabis. Once more people have access to a product, there will of course be more accidents involving that product. Parents are also more likely to feel safer bringing their children to the emergency room following accidental ingestion now that cannabis is no longer criminalized, which would also contribute to an increase in overall visits.

The third graph highlighted by the Republic also leaves out the number of calls related to THC exposure from 2016 to 2020, so using data like “as recently as five in 2014” makes it look like there’s a sudden spike but offers no additional context. Hard news articles should not select information.

While the reporter quotes Maureen Roland, a registered nurse at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, the story does not include any other sources or voices in the article addressing the issue.

The article rightly points out that no one died, but then relies on Roland’s opinion and speculation. The article should include physicians from other states with a mature market who have witnessed longer-term trends over several years. Also, it leaves out data from the rest of the state, which would certainly be helpful for a broader perspective.

How to fix:

To avoid bias in their reports, the author could have simply included items discussed in the IBE discussion, but also highlighted other statistics for comparison: for example, how many children are brought to the emergency room for ingestion accidental use of pharmaceuticals or alcohol and how many of these emergency room visits result in death.

Including the fact that there were no fatalities in the lede chart would also help balance the story. The headline could read, “Poison calls for children who use marijuana are on the rise in Maricopa County: No deaths,” which would serve to inform the reader rather than attract clicks, which seems to be the goal of the current title structure (this is also known as structural bias).

To be clear, this is a question that should be covered, and parents in states where cannabis is legal should be informed of their responsibilities and the potential consequences of storing the products where they are accessible to children. Coverage related to accidental cannabis use by children is not expected to be ignored; however, in order to avoid alarmists, journalistic reports should include all relevant information, including experts, other stakeholders and any available research on the subject. This story falls short of those expectations due to its failure to provide context and the omission of other relevant facts and voices.