Marijuana in the News, 2007 to 2014

Marijuana in the News, 2007 to 2014

Marijuana has become a bigger news story than ever in recent years. Critical reappraisals of its legal status—which has caused the imprisonment of many nonviolent offenders, particularly people of color—its relative potential harms and its social and medical roles have reached a tipping point. The reform of US anti-marijuana laws is now well under way: Colorado and Washington State voted to fully legalize in 2012; Alaska, Oregon and Washington, DC followed suit this year; and a total of 23 states so far allow marijuana for medical purposes.

As these historic reforms have gained traction, with some analysts predicting that federal legalization isn’t too far away, dissenting voices defending the status quo have likewise turned up the volume. But as news outlets devote more coverage to marijuana, what are they saying? Is their coverage neutral? Or do they take a positive or a negative slant?

To try to find out, we analyzed over 24,000 marijuana-related articles, published between 2007 and 2014 in 12 of the most popular online news outlets, including The New York Times, CNN and Fox News. All were processed using Alchemy API, a natural language system that counts search terms (in this case, “marijuana”) and identifies what it defines as the “sentiment”—”positive,” “negative” and “neutral”— of particular words in each story. The results, which were compiled before the latest round of legalization votes in November, offer not only a quantitative but a qualitative (albeit unscientific) picture of media attitudes. Read More…