In marijuana journalism boom, Cannabis Wire keeps its public health mission

October 26, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Editor of cannabis site says 'We don't owe anyone'; Super Typhoon Yutu; 'premeditated' Khashoggi killing

Maybe if it took ads, it would be rich. Maybe if it focused on business, smoke-out events or weed ratings, Cannabis Wire could have capitalized on the boom of investment in marijuana journalism.

The site has expanded under a grant from Civil, with three new reporters and an editor, but Cannabis Wire has tried to stay focused on public health before profits. It writes accountability stories for a $6 billion industry that sees its sector swelling to $50 billion. The site doesn’t shift its gaze from uncomfortable issues such as racial disparities in marijuana profits and punishment.

“I feel like we don’t owe anyone,” said Nushin Rashidian, who co-founded the site with Alyson Martin. The two have also written “A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition,” one of the first books about marijuana legalization.

“There’s a lot of cannabis journalism happening,” Rashidian told me from New York. “I feel like there is something to be said for trying really hard to document a really significant moment. There are decisions being made now that have implications for decades.”

Rashidian and Martin started on this path nearly a decade ago while on winter break from Columbia journalism school. Martin, from upstate New York, was visiting Rashidian and her family in Southern California when they took a stroll on Venice Beach.

“What is this?” Martin asked of the openly marijuana-smoking skateboarders, volleyballers, concrete court soccer players, spectators and passers-by.

“What is what?” responded a puzzled Rashidian, accustomed to a less-restrictive America than the one Martin lived in back home.

They wanted to document what they pictured would be a seismic change as Venice Beach spread to the rest of America. “We started Googling and never stopped,” Rashidian said.

As state after state has decriminalized medical and/or recreational marijuana use, Cannabis Wire has been reporting on issues on an industry that often made hyped claims as it grew.

For other journalists covering marijuana issues, Rashidian recommends skepticism on claims of miraculous health cures and revolutionary changes with use.

In legalized states, marijuana is evolving into basically an unsexy consumer product, she says. It’s marketed with testable dosages now, like alcohol percentages on beer and wine. More of it is edibles and oils. The marijuana is often from “known” farms, like locavore vegetables or craft brew. Are pesticides used? What’s the quality control?

The issues can become the same as for alcohol companies flirting with high-proof content. Basically, “don’t wreck the ecosystem,” Rashidian said. “Don’t put 300 milligrams of product in a single dose because someone is going to overdose.”

The range of Cannabis Wire is evident in its recent stories: How weak regulation from the start in Oregon both fueled a marijuana boom and endangers its sustainability. Who gets busted for weed on the border? Is your data safe if you buy legal cannabis? Why some medical marijuana patients in public housing have to choose between their prescription and their home.

What are the next steps for Cannabis Wire? Rashidian said it’s building out the morning newsletter and a subscription model over the next year. Content-wise, it will be looking to see if regulators, once very cautious, have moved too much the other way.

Nearly all states today allow either medical and/or recreational cannabis sales, Rashidian said, with the "no" states in the nation's center. “If you look at a map of the U.S., it looks like a green doughnut with a red hole in the middle.”

Quick hits

THE WORST LANDFALL IN 83 YEARS: 180 mph winds are pummeling the edge of the United States. Why didn’t you hear more about it? If Puerto Rico believes part of the initial U.S. neglect about Maria came because it was not a state, what about the Northern Marianas and Super Typhoon Yutu?

PREMEDITATED: That’s how the Saudi prosecutor described the killing of dissident journalism and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Not a fistfight. Now what? Will Saudi Arabia really identify the mastermind?

BOMB SCARES: How President Trump targeted the people targeted by a bomber. Jennifer Rubin called the bombings the biggest mass assassination attempt in U.S. history — including two past presidents, one vice president, a former attorney general, ex-DNC leader and sitting members of Congress. On Thursday, explosive packages were found addressed to Joe Biden and Robert DeNiro, raising the number of pipe bombs to 10.

HOW WORDS LEAD TO MURDER: Eyal Press recounts the demonization of doctors that led to the fatal shooting 20 years ago of Dr. Barnett Slepian, an abortion provider from the Buffalo suburb of Amherst. Slepian was slain in the kitchen of his home by an anti-abortion extremist. Researchers have shown patterns in the release of inciting propaganda and murder.

BIG MOVES: The Washington Post announced it would be adding positions for 11 reporters, editors and videographers to cover tech. Eight of the journalists will be based in San Francisco, one in a new Seattle office and two in Washington. The positions, listed here, include an algorithm and artificial intelligence reporter and a technology-in-our-lives reporter. (h/t Glenn Kessler)

THREE PAGES, ONE COVER: Time’s striking cover on gun control, with the French photographer JR.


 

CROSS-COUNTRY: The daily public radio news show “1A” will partner with six affiliates across the country in the runup to the 2020 elections, under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The national show, produced by Washington's WAMU, is heard on 335 stations, Current's April Simpson reported.

STARTING MONDAY: Joy Lin, a former ABC, CBS and Fox News producer, will join CPB as its new vice president of journalism. Lin will focus on strategy, planning and major initiatives. Lin was most recently a producer on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

MEGYN KELLY: After the NBC host's comments about the use of blackface, Kelly’s future at “Today” appears to be over, CNN reports. Lester Holt reported on the comments Wednesday night and Al Roker said Kelly “owes a bigger apology to folks of color across the country.” Kelly, who apologized on-air on Wednesday, did not appear on Thursday’s “Today” show. On Wednesday, her talent representative, CAA, dropped her.

THE READ: Welcome to the hospital that holds its patients ransom until they get the bill. Experts have come up with more than 60 press reports of patient detention in 14 countries in Asia and Africa. The AP's Maria Cheng tracked a few down. “What’s striking about this issue is that the more we look for this, the more we find it,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute,

On Poynter.org

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  • Are young people really better at determining fact from opinion? The frustrating limits of media studies. By Daniel Funke and Alexios Mantzarlis. 

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Have a good Friday and weekend ahead. See you on Monday.