Feeding on fear: Edible marijuana and disproportionality in US media

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Aims: US marijuana policy is in flux, as some states have legalized it for medical and recreational use despite long-standing federal prohibition. Edible marijuana (edibles) allows consumption without smoke inhalation, yet concern surrounding dosing and its effect is concerning. Cohen’s moral panic framework informs how and why some societal problems are disproportionately constructed and stigmatized, while other important problems are tolerated or ignored. This qualitative study explores the construction of disproportionality within textual US news coverage of legal edibles. Methods: A three-year sample of 349 articles was retrieved and analysed. Analysis was informed a priori by the moral panic criteria of disproportionality, and data reflect headlines and story text purporting to gauge problems surrounding edibles. Findings: Using reports of emergencies, poison centre calls and anecdotes, disproportionality surrounding edibles was constructed using indefinite numeric adjectives while avoiding or downplaying totals and presenting statistics with little context to gauge danger relative to other substances. Edibles were also depicted as causing fatalities, occluding other contributing causes. Conclusions: Deviance was ascribed to marijuana by exaggerating its toxicity when eaten and downplaying important contextual factors. Disproportionality surrounding marijuana supports bases vested in maintaining criminalization policies while drawing attention from other relevant social problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)462-470
Number of pages9
JournalDrugs: Education, Prevention and Policy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)


  • Cannabis
  • drugs
  • policy
  • qualitative research
  • substance abuse


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