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Police chief duped on pot overdoses

Published February 26, 2014 8:58 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Annapolis, Md., Police Chief Michael Pristoop thought he came prepared when he testified before a Maryland state Senate panel on Tuesday about the perils of legalizing marijuana.

In researching his testimony against two bills before the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Pristoop said, he had found a news article to illustrate the risks of legalization: 37 people in Colorado, he said, had died of marijuana overdoses on the very day that the state legalized pot.

"When he said it, everyone in the room dropped their laptops," Sen. Jamie Raskin said in an email.

Trouble is, the facts were about as close to the truth as oregano is to pot. After a quick Google search on his laptop, Raskin — the sponsor of the legalization bill —advised the chief that the Colorado overdose story, despite its deadpan delivery, had been made up for laughs by The Daily Currant, an online comedy magazine.

"I had not seen the spoof before, but it was self-evidently a parody," Raskin said. "In the absence of real data, Internet hoaxes are becoming marijuana Prohibition's last stand."

Pristoop was among more than 100 people who testified at the hearing to give their views about legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. Most witnesses said they were in favor of Raskin's bill, which would legalize marijuana and tax and regulate its distribution and use. A separate bill, sponsored by Sens. Robert Zirkin, D, and Allan Kittleman, R, would impose a civil fine of $100 for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Late Tuesday, the chief apologized for the mistake, admitting in a news release that he had been duped.

"I apologize for the information I provided concerning the deaths. I believed the information I obtained was accurate, but I now know the story is nothing more than an urban legend," Pristoop said. "This does not take away from the other facts presented in opposition to legalization or the good work of the Maryland Chiefs and Maryland Sheriffs Associations."

Maj. Scott Baker said the chief and the department regretted the erroneous testimony but were also trying to take the mistake in stride, with a bit of humor.

"His numbers are up in smoke," Baker acknowledged Wednesday - a sly tip of the hat to Cheech & Chong's 1978 stoner movie.

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