Florida paper's marijuana site: Not just for Grateful Dead fans

For one year 45 years ago, Michael Pollick lived in Monterey, California. It was an interesting year. Pollick, who was studying Mandarin with the Air Force, lived at Presidio of Monterey. Two years after the Summer of Love, there was the bloody standoff over People's Park in Berkeley, "and the fanning out of the hippie point of view throughout the culture," he said.

This June, Pollick, a reporter with the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune, traveled back to California to see something new -- a culture, businesses, regulations and people rising around the legalization of medical marijuana. Then, he went to Colorado and did the same thing.

Stories about what he found are running now in the Herald-Tribune and on its new site, Medical Marijuana. The site launched last Sunday, with plans to roll out a series of stories leading up to November's ballot initiative that could legalize medical marijuana in Florida. The site includes both original reporting from Pollick and some aggregation. It joins other newspapers devoting space and ink to marijuana, including The Denver Post, seattlepi.com, The Seattle Times and Denver's Westword. (Here's a replay of a chat Poynter's Kelly McBride did back in January called "Covering pot when recreational use is legalized.")

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"Our primary goal was to inform our readers of what we may look like," said Matthew Sauer, assistant managing editor for news and business at the Herald-Tribune. And Pollick was the natural reporter to write for the site, he said.

He's a boomer, Sauer said, "and boomers obviously have a unique perspective on marijuana. They lived through the first movement."

Certainly there are stories about pot and culture and stereotypes that come with those things, Sauer said, but with Medical Marijuana, the Herald-Tribune wants to tell the story of business and economic potential and the entrepreneurs creating an industry around it.

"Not all of them are Grateful Dead fans," Sauer said.

"I was struck by how well developed the cannabis industry is in the states I visited – Colorado and California," Pollick said. "While growing and processing raw cannabis flowers is still the core of the enterprise, it is interesting how many cannabis-infused products are now on the market – edibles, massage oil, cartridges of concentrate that fit into a vaporizer the size of a fountain pen."

He also wants to help tell a big picture story, he said, "how medical marijuana got its start in the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco and became a movement that now encompasses nearly half of the states in the nation."

(Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
(Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

On Wednesday, Pollick wrote about a place in Oakland that was raided by the DEA in 2012.

If any place in America could be considered a safe haven in an era of loosened marijuana law enforcement, it would be “Oaksterdam.”

After all, this nine-block sliver of Oakland has a strong history of marijuana activism, and its centerpiece is a trade school devoted to techniques for growing, cultivating and marketing the cannabis plant.

Future stories will include how marijuana is becoming part of culture in Colorado, Pollick said, with a story about the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and its fundraising series, “Classically Cannabis – The High Note Series."

Sauer figures the site will continue reporting on medical marijuana regardless of how the vote goes in November. As long as it's a big topic, they'll cover it. The site just started, he said, and there hasn't been a strong reaction for or against it yet from readers. People assume that with an older demographic, people in Florida might not be nuts about the topic, he added, "but I'm not sure that's the case."

And while he's looking to Colorado and California to see what could develop in Florida, since launching the site, Pollick's also learned about businesses with plans for Florida.

"The site is smoking them out, so to speak."


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