Testifying against legislation that would decriminalize marijuana in Maryland, the Annapolis police chief cited a satirical article that claimed 37 pot deaths occurred on the first day Colorado legalized its sale.
“The first day of legalization, that’s when Colorado experienced 37 deaths that day from overdose on marijuana,” Chief Michael Pristoop said on Tuesday as part of testimony during a Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing. “I remember the first day it was decriminalized there were 37 deaths.”
Pristoop was quickly corrected by a sponsor of one of the bills, according to the Capital Gazette.
“Unless you have some other source for this, I’m afraid I’ve got to spoil the party here,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin. “Your assertion that 37 people died of a marijuana overdose in Colorado was a hoax on the Daily Currant and the Comedy Central website.”
The Daily Currant posted the article – “Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado on First Day of Legalization” – on Jan. 2. It has since been shared over 24,000 times across various social media and other web platforms.
Pristoop quickly acknowledged the error, explaining that the use of the fake news story was an honest accident.
“After conducting additional research, it appears that was not accurate at all,” Pristoop said. “I believed at the time that was accurate. But I don’t think it takes away from the other facts we presented.”
Pristoop later apologized on his Facebook page.
“I apologize for the information I provided concerning the deaths,” Pristoop wrote. “I believed the information I obtained was accurate but I now know the story is nothing more than an urban legend.”
Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides said Pristoop’s mistake was likely unintentional, adding that a recent spate of heroin deaths in the area may have influenced his police chief.
“Clearly when you’re constantly dealing with a drug where people overdose, it’s probably in your head to think overdoses, drugs,” Pantelides said. “Again, it could have just been a slip… he said something he shouldn’t have.”
Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, was the site of six heroin deaths in 2013, up from two in 2012, according to the Capital Gazette.
The Daily Currant story quotes a fake Dr. Jack Shepard, who, in the vein of the 1936 anti-pot propaganda film “Reefer Madness,” hysterically laments Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana.
"We are seeing cardiac arrests, hypospadias, acquired trimethylaminuria and multiple organ failures. By next week the death toll could go as high as 200, maybe 300. Someone needs to step in and stop this madness. My god, why did we legalize marijuana? What were we thinking?"
Many of the Facebook comments responding to Pristoop’s apology called the erroneous testimony a stain on his reputation, according to Raw Story.
“He could have talked to a medical expert, or a coroner, or even looked at his own department’s statistics, but in his rush to confirm his own biases, this credulous stooge used the first Google result that fit into his pre-conceived narrative,” wrote Ken Stewart. “FAIL.”