A satirical website managed to fool a number of social media users into thinking 37 people had died from smoking marijuana in Colorado on 1 January - the day it became legal for anyone to buy the drug from licensed shops in the state.
“Colorado is reconsidering its decision to legalize recreational pot following the deaths of dozens due to marijuana overdoses,” The Daily Currant announced, as news broke that residents had spent $1 million on recreational marijuana in the state on New Years Day.
The hoax added: “According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News, 37 people were killed across the state on Jan. 1, the first day the drug became legal for all adults to purchase. Several more are clinging onto life in local emergency rooms and are not expected to survive.”
Opponents of the law quickly jumped on the story, believing that the story was indeed based on an actual report by the excellently named real life Rocky Mountain News outlet.
Jedidiah Timm wrote on Twitter: “Colorado legalized marijuana use. First day, 37 deaths. Gee aren't you liberals smart?”
Matt Vargo tweeted: “Colorado had 37 deaths from Marijuana over dose on the 1st day of it being legal. Good job, that sure was a great idea on making pot legal.”
Others meanwhile simply expressed shock that people can die from overdosing on marijuana (you can’t), with one man devoting an entire two and a half minute Youtube video to conveying his disbelief.
The Daily Currant article went onto quote the fictitious Dr. Jack Shepard, 'chief of surgery at St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver': "It's complete chaos here. I've put five college students in body bags since breakfast and more are arriving every minute," the made-up doctor is reported as saying.
"We are seeing cardiac arrests, hypospadias, acquired trimethylaminuria and multiple organ failures," the quote continued. "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?"
Hypospadias is a birth defect affecting the penis while trimethylaminuria is a rare metabolic disorder also known as fish odor syndrome.
Like Rocky Mountain News, St. Luke’s Medical Center is also a real place, which was prompted to issue a statement reassuring people that that article was not real.
“There is no such doctor as 'Jack Shepard' on our medical staff and that there have been no deaths due to marijuana at our hospital,” the centre said in a statement, ABC News reports.
Just in case the article was a little too believable, The Daily Currant even slotted in a Breaking Bad reference, naming one of the victims as Jesse Bruce Pinkman - “a former methamphetamine dealer from Albuquerque who had recently moved to Boulder to establish a legal marijuana dispensary”.