Anti-drug educator Shane Watson often thinks about his appearance in a viral ABC 15 news story about the "threat" of dabbing.
"It's not an exaggeration to say that for a short period of time, it ruined my life," says Watson, who works for the local drug-prevention organization notMYkid.
He's not talking about dabs, one of several terms for concentrated hash oil.
Rather, it was the September 16 broadcast on ABC-15 (KNXV-TV) that messed him up.
We noticed the online version of the piece by reporter MaryEllen Resendez while researching our April 3 article on hash oil and dabbing.
"'Dabbing' the new drug of choice for teens?" ran the headline in the TV news story. Anchor Katie Raml introduces the piece by saying hash oil is a "new danger" and that "experts say it's becoming a real threat." Resendez says, "Sadly, it's becoming the choice of drug among teens, some as young as sixth grade."
Resendez relies on Watson heavily for the article and -- though mentioning his prior use of booze and heroin -- makes him sound like the West's most prolific dabber.
Watson's group shares some culpability for the problem -- after all, notMYkid and Watson jumped at the chance to be interviewed by ABC 15, probably because they figured the free publicity might be beneficial. Yet even without Watson's complaints, a careful viewer would have noticed something suspicious about the way the video was edited to help tell the story:
Watson's quoted as saying he believed he could "outpower" his addictions.
Then Resendez tells viewers, "But when Shane moved from marijuana and alcohol to hash oil, it began to control him."
Back to Watson, who describes for the camera what smoking hash oil feels like: "It was intense. I felt like I was walking through wet concrete."
"That concrete turned to quicksand when Shane hit bottom," Resendez segues.
Both the broadcast video and online article tell how, "Watson lost a decade of his life to addiction. He hurt those around him and soon found he had lost everything."
A Google search for "dabbing" reveals that this article and broadcast piece was extraordinarily popular, picked up by hundreds of ABC affiliate stations and news sites across the country. And it was criticized heavily by marijuana advocates.
Russ Belville, who writes for High Times magazine and has a radio show, featured Resendez's work prominently in a widely read October article about the media's coverage of "dabs."
"Following a brief explanation of what 'butane hash oil' is without ever mentioning it is essentially marijuana," Belville wrote, "the bulk of the story features Shane Watson, a rehab counselor and recovering addict, explaining how awful his life became because of BHO."
That's the impression anyone who read or saw the story likely received.
But it's nonsense, says Watson.
He's "dabbed" exactly once in his life, he tells New Times.
And he insists that's what he told Resendez.
We contacted Watson originally a few weeks ago, after spotting Resendez's report, and phoned him to ask a few more questions. He replied by saying he wouldn't give an interview on dabbing but that he did have complaints about the "sensationalistic" ABC 15 story.
Watson's life has been plagued by substance abuse; that much was true. However, his biggest problem was booze, which he says he found more "destructive" than any of the illegal drugs he'd tried, including heroin.
He admits he'd smoked plenty of pot in his partying days, and that he'd happily tried hash oil when he and his friends scored some. Other than that, he says, his experience of dabbing is limited to what he's read.
Watson's been clean for 28 months now, he says. He has a communications job with notMYkid, (founded by Steve and Debbie Moak) and gives talks to parents and school faculty about drug and alcohol abuse.
Resendez's video segment and article were redistributed by prohibitionists, government agencies, and ticked-off marijuana activists.
"It made me look like the poster child for Reefer Madness," he says. His address and phone number were published online by one pot activist who suggested others "find him," he says, and he received "harassment and threats."
One of his co-workers, a notMYkid employee who asked not to be identified, tells New Times she listened in on the ABC 15 interview at the group's Scottsdale office and recalls Watson's telling Resendez that he'd dabbed just the one time.
Watson claims he and a supervisor at notMYkid asked the station to remove or correct the "inaccurate" story, but that they never heard a reply.
"Additionally," Watson said, "my interview was aired in proximity to an interview from the County Attorney regarding him shutting down dispensaries. I didn't appreciate that whatsoever. My motivation is not to have dispensaries shut down. My motivation is to prevent kids from using any substance, as I feel it makes far more sense for people to wait until adulthood before making certain choices."
After New Times called Resendez and ABC 15 for comment earlier this week, Resendez and Dan Wilson, assistant news director, conference-called Watson to talk about the situation. Watson says the station representatives were "apologetic" and asked how they could make things right.
We never heard from Resendez, but Wilson sent New Times a short e-mail following his conversation with Watson, saying Watson had "agreed that ABC 15 will not be making any changes or retractions."
Watson describes Wednesday's talk with the station as amicable but says he'd told Wilson not to bother to do anything now, because a local retraction would not affect sites nationwide that ran the story. He says Resendez told him she never received the voicemail he'd left for her last year after her piece aired.
Wilson and Resendez declined to say anything more for this article.
Real concerns exist about shatter, wax, dabs or whatever you want to call the substance. Amateur butane hash-oil makers really are blowing themselves up, for instance. But hash oil (which can be made without explosions and without butane) contains nothing but the compounds found in marijuana plants. For our April 3 article, we watched a real dabber -- a registered medicinal user -- take two huge hits of wax and continue an interview as if nothing had happened.
As Watson's example -- his real one -- demonstrates, alcohol is more dangerous. But you wouldn't know that from Resendez's report.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
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