DRUG TEST: Frisking The Inquirer’s Super-Weed Bust Story For The Straight Dope On ‘The War On Drugs’


So the Inquirer is trumpeting a big marijuana bust on City Line Avenue that took 16 pounds of the dreaded “AK47″off the street, denying buzz to untold scores of suburban dad-rockers currently pumping iron out in the garage like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty.

A potent type of marijuana known as AK47so strong potmarquee.gifthat some users are treated in emergency rooms for overdoses – has hit the Philadelphia area. Today, police laid out 16 pounds of the stuff [NOT pictured, above] they said they confiscated from a high-level dealer who supplied the suburbs: Michael Cascioli, 31, of the 6100 block of City Avenue. He was arrested Monday in his penthouse suite and charged with multiple drug offenses.

First question is what is the source of this bit about about users “treated in emergency rooms for overdoses”? Planted in the lede like an alarm bell triggered mid-sentence, it is crucial to justifying the enormous expenditure of law enforcement resources to take 16 pounds of mary jane off the street. After all, in the era of ‘medical marijuana’ most readers view pot busts as doobie dubious at best. But if there is some dangerous new strain is flooding the nation’s emergency rooms with spaced-out Cheeches and Chongs on the verge of death, well, we wanna know, right? But the sourcing on that crucial factoid is buried far below. First we have to wade through the details of the bust, which reads like a transcript of the law enforcement press conference it came from:

Also arrested was Jeremy Sarkissina, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who allegedly showed up with $14,000 to potwalk.gifbuy drugs while police were executing a search warrant, Narcotics Chief Inspector William Blackburn said. That money was confiscated, as well.

Police put the value of the marijuana at $812,000. On Tuesday, as the probe continued, investigators seized 12 pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms worth $614,000 and more than $439,000 in cash, police said. “This was a large-scale smuggling operation,” Blackburn said. The drugs came up from South America to Canada, and then went through New York to reach this area, he said.

Ah, the dollar-figure money shot. Always juices up these stories. Yes, there is a lot of money in the drug trade. Why? Because it is illegal and pricing is unregulated. But that’s not news, that’s Economics 101. Cue weightlifting scene from American Beauty

“Most of his clients were from the suburbs,” Blackburn said of Cascioli, calling his customers “high-end” buyers who purchased by the pound and then sold smaller quantities. “He wasn’t sellingspacey.jpg this stuff on the street level. People would come and buy pretty large amounts of marijuana.”

OK, finally — some nine graphs into the story — we find out the source of that zinger about emergency room overdoses. And surprise, surprise, it comes not from a medical professional or a hospital spokesperson, but a cop. In fact, the senior law enforcement official overseeing the drug bust:

Blackburn said that in marijuana circles, the AK47 strain is called “the one-hit wonder” and “an award-winning drug.” Web sites that sell marijuana seeds call AK47 a highly potent form of the drug.

Hospitals are seeing more teens in emergency rooms because of the “overdose, effects and powerfulness of this drug,” Blackburn said, adding that overdoses are not “typical of marijuana, but it’s typical of this type of marijuana.”

And then the rest of the story reads like a department head justifying his budget. FYI, this year the federal government will spend $19 BILLION fighting the so-called War On Drugs. That breaks down to roughly $600 every second. Let us be clear here, we are not questioning the competency or the integrity of the law enforcement officials involved in this bust. The question we raise here is how precious law enforcement potak47_2.jpgresources are being prioritized. We know for a stone cold fact that NOBODY HAS EVER DIED FROM MARIJUANA and we are wondering why law enforcement isn’t taking 16 pounds of illegal guns off the streets instead. Furthermore, we find the claim of a sinister new strain of marijuana spurring an epidemic of emergency room visits to be apocryphal at best, and as such we question the journalistic standards that allowed such a specious statement to be treated as unassailable fact in the lede of the story. Frankly, it seems like the Inquirer got played.


WARNING: May cause the paper of record to behave like a police state megaphone. [photo source]

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