The project pooled AP’s resources across departments for a nationwide, multiformat effort that not only named CBD products that are spiked with dangerous manmade drugs but also exposed some of the people behind them.
Responding to AP’s call for ambitious journalism in 2019, Holbrook “Bert” Mohr of the U.S. investigations team tossed out an idea during a brainstorming session: Authorities in Mississippi had found vapes containing fentanyl and synthetic marijuana in stores near Mohr’s home. What caught his eye was that the product was labeled as CBD.
Mohr asked his daughter if she’d heard anything about CBD vaping and she said high school kids were getting so high they’d pass out. Mohr reasoned that with CBD’s popularity taking off, CBD vapes spiked with street drugs might well be elsewhere. Thus began a collaboration by the Investigations and the Health and Science teams that would offer not just the exclusive results of laboratory testing — finding cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana instead of natural CBD in vapes and edibles — but also telling details about the people who bring dangerous products to market.
To assess the availability of spiked vapes, Mohr surveyed law enforcement in all 50 states and directed the gathering of 30 vape samples from four states and online. Those samples were tested at a well-credentialed lab. The reporting showed that whether a brand was spiked could depend on flavor and even location of purchase.
Following spiked products up the supply chain led to several memorable characters, including one whom enterprise reporter Juliet Linderman bird-dogged in Manhattan. Another in Southern California walked out during a videotaped interview. The accompanying video, shot and edited by Raleigh’s Allen Breed with essential contributions by Los Angeles video journalist Krysta Fauria and Seattle photographer Ted Warren, was a key addition to a package that also had important contributions by Dallas investigative reporter Reese Dunklin and New York researcher Rhonda Shafner.
On a busy news day, “Spiked CBD” broke through. It was easily the top story on AP News, and Mohr’s bylined story appeared on the front page of at least 23 newspapers; it was teased on the front of nearly 100 others. The play was bolstered by briefs tailored to 11 states where testing found spiked vapes. Mohr also did five media interviews. The first was on “CNN Newsroom,” a nice nod to Mohr, who had learned that CNN was working on its own documentary on the subject.
For identifying and leading a collaborative investigative project that connected with customers and readers, Mohr receives this week’s Best of the States award.