Weed Writing

Mr. Smith welcomes a new member of the Society of Marijuana Journalists (not an actual organization)

In a perfect world, there would be a job where you could just sit around all day, looking up things about pot on the Internet and reading about pot and deciding what aspects of the pot world get coverage in a major newspaper. You would get paid a mad salary to think only about pot, then tell reporters and photographers what to do about it. You would never have to edit a sports story or a city council story or a crime story.

In a perfect world, there would be a pot editor ... wait.

The Denver Post moved a bit closer to that world last week when it announced that longtime music editor Ricardo Baca gets the dream job of guiding the Post's marijuana coverage through legalization. Although there has been a lot of attention from late-night comedians like Jay Leno, Baca sees cannabis coverage as serious business.

"The reason this is all so ripe for national commentary is because we're on the forefront of an international story," Baca said in a Q&A in the Post. "When recreational pot hits the Colorado streets on Jan. 1, 2014, the drug will be more legal here than anywhere else in the world. That's a tasty news story."

Tasty indeed. And Baca will be subject to drug testing, says Missy Miller, the post's senior VP for human resources.

"The Denver Post's drug and alcohol policy applies to this position," she said. "As with alcohol, you are not allowed to ingest (either via cigarettes or food) marijuana in the office or come to the office 'reeking' of marijuana. If you do imbibe marijuana in the course of covering it for your job, we expect you to take necessary steps to ensure you do not drive while impaired or put anyone at risk."

It's fun to watch the cannabis media circus play out. I think journalists across the nation were surprised by the passage of legalization in Washington and Colorado, and media outlets are playing catch-up. Sanjay Gupta is a perfect example—a national medical media figure at a major network wasn't even aware of the medical benefits of cannabis until last summer.

Well, he is now.

And other major media outlets are getting on the bandwagon, too. Pot reporting has gone mainstream. I've read stories recently in The Washington Post, Forbes and The Atlantic. Although she comes woefully late to the game, New York Times writer Jane E. Brophy wrote an overview of medical cannabis Nov. 13. Welcome to the club, Jane. It's good to know a New York Times personal health writer has finally discovered medical cannabis almost 20 years after California did.

And the coverage these days is serious—most of it is bereft of stoner references and snickering. Instead, The Washington Post is examining the impact of the medical cannabis world on drug cartels. NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is examining the merits of legalizing and taxing cannabis. The Wall Street Journal is examining the merits of legalization in California.

I don't think cannabis coverage is on the upswing because of a shift in the mainstream media. The mainstream media didn't decide to go snooping off the beaten path to report about cannabis. Cannabis came snooping around and became mainstream, and that's a good thing. It's fun to see the influence of cannabis—the business, the culture, the science—leaking into the mainstream in way that forces us to pay attention. I don't want to be a pot editor, despite the numerous links my friends sent me when the job came open. I think it's a little too mainstream for me.

But I'm glad there is one.

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