Despite a very brief public scare last week, THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana, never did contaminate the water supply of rural Hugo, Colorado (population 730). But you might not know that if you relied on MATFORCE to keep you informed.
Capt. Michael Yowell of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office in eastern Colorado explains that the brief panic, which shut down a municipal pool and prompted local government to distribute bottled water, began on July 21, when the department received a report about a tampered well.
Coincidentally, while sheriff's deputies responded to the scene, the Lincoln County Department of Human Services revealed an astonishing piece of news: Employees working to calibrate the county's drug-testing kit had tested tap water for THC — and the result had come up positive. Not only that, but further tests on tap-water samples from different sources had yielded positive results, as well.
"We knew THC isn't water soluble, so we said, 'That's not adding up, guys,'" Yowell recounts.
He says county and town officials figured they had two choices: They could keep it quiet and send samples to a state lab for testing, which would take 48 hours. Or they could "err on the side of caution."
Officials declared a health advisory, distributing bottled water and instructing town residents that H2O from the municipal supply should only be used for landscaping.
Even as the scare was prompting a deluge of coverage nationwide, science geeks and the cannabis aficionados knew (as Yowell claims he did) the story didn't hold water.
That's because THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, doesn't readily dissolve in water the way salt, sugar, or arsenic would. If someone dumped a bunch of THC into a reservoir, 99.7 percent of it would float.
By the end of last week, after state tests confirmed that scientific fact, news organizations including the New York Times and National Public Radio conscientiously followed up, reporting that the scare had been unwarranted.
(Ironically, cheap drug-testing kits have been in the news lately because they lead to unjust busts. A July 7 ProPublica article by Pulitzer Prize-winning former East Valley Tribune reporter Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders revealed that thousands of people nationwide are sent to jail each year owing to false positive results from such tests.)
On Monday, MATFORCE, a quasi-political organization that uses public money to spread its anti-legalization message and counts Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk among its board members, was still behind the times. Only after calls on Tuesday from New Times and former Cottonwood Councilman Jesse Dowling, who tipped us off to the tweet, did MATFORCE's Twitter followers get the straight dope.
On Tuesday morning, New Times e-mailed MATFORCE asking if the tweet would be updated to reflect the true story. Early in the afternoon, an unidentified member of the group replied, writing, "Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. I was not aware of the follow up information of this news report. I have tweeted a correction."
At 2 p.m. local time, the issued a corrected tweet, and later deleted the first one:
CORRECTION: No THC in Colorado town's water, new tests show https://t.co/75E20zmWoc— MATFORCE (@MATFORCEAZ) July 26, 2016
Yowell says Hugo's false positive was one of the biggest stories ever to hit the town. County officials were flooded with calls from the media, and — despite his admonition at a press conference following the sounding of the alarm that "[a]ny number of substances could cause a false positive" —
also faced sharp criticism from cannabis advocates.
"I hope history remembers this incident as a small town trying to take care of its neighbors," he says.