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Cannabis Journalists

Why Are Cannabis Journalists So Important?

June 6, 2020

Why Are Cannabis Journalists So Important?


The life of a cannabis journalist is unlike that of any other journalist—and any other professional working in the cannabis industry, for that matter.

There is the journalism aspect, of course, which includes pressing deadlines, challenging editorial structures and the frustrating reality of publishing in the 2020s.

And then there’s the whole cannabis part, which for a journalist means covering a nascent industry that is still figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up. Rules and regulations that differ from state to state, province to province. Constantly shifting federal policies—few of which have any rooting in reality or logic. And a persistent need to position the fundamental roadblock that governs nearly everything in the marijuana industry: “Because cannabis remains federally illegal …”

I honestly cannot tell you how many times I’ve started a sentence that way, but it showcases the importance of cannabis reform and how journalism is shaping the narrative.

Why Cannabis Journalism Matters

True story: I am a cannabis journalist, though I’m not as active as I was a few years ago. I unintentionally made headlines myself in 2013 when my editors at The Denver Post appointed me as the Pulitzer-winning newspaper’s Marijuana Editor.

What did I do? I broke news on the laws and regs. I worked with colleagues throughout the newsroom. I created a standalone online vertical called The Cannabist, where I hired a staff of six full-timers and a dozen-plus freelancers to cover the dawn of legalization.

I embarked on years-long investigative reporting projects that held everyone accountable from bad actors in the industry to overwhelmed government regulators to prohibitionists still clinging to dated arguments that were being proven wrong by the historic drug policy reform my colleagues and I were witnessing daily in our front yards in Denver.

I had the time of my life—though I later jumped at the opportunity to create a full-service PR and Content Marketing agency in late 2016. And while I’ve written columns for Rolling Stone, The Daily Beast, Cannabis Now, mg Magazine and other publications since, most of my time nowadays is spent working directly with Grasslands clients, many of whom operate in the marijuana and hemp industries.

The New Generation of Cannabis Journalists

All that said, I’m proud to have passed the baton to a new generation of cannabis journalists—who themselves are holding the powerful accountable, keeping the world informed and chronicling the news and trends that still make this fast-paced space one of the most compelling industries in the world.

In 2015, esteemed D.C. think tank Brookings Institution included me on its list of 12 Key People to Watch in Marijuana Policy. I remember laughing when I first saw my name on that list alongside then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, then-Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and others.

While I was immensely honored, I didn’t understand my role on that list until years later—after I had left The Post, and after I had started the PR agency Grasslands, which is best known for its cannabis practice.

Only then could I see the tremendous impact journalists can have on a new industry.

Because my colleagues and I at The Post and The Cannabist were covering the cannabis industry the same as we were covering oil and gas, transportation or hospitality, we were normalizing cannabis and legitimizing the marijuana industry at scale—as our readers would later tell me.

Brookings wrote that I “transformed the manner in which mainstream media deals with this new policy issue,” adding that The Cannabist “will have an effect on marijuana policy in the same way media influences conversations on all types of public policy.”  

The Truth Is Rooted in Great Cannabis Journalism

Our very democracy depends on journalism—as do our business sectors. And I am so thankful for the cannabis journalists who cover this space day in and day out, as they are legitimately elevating, normalizing and influencing how the public views and interacts with this spectacular plant.

That’s why I’m proud Grasslands launched the Cannabis Journalist Q&A blog series. This special profile series is curated, reported and written by Oakland-based journalist Ellen Holland, who’s the former senior editor of Cannabis Now magazine, a San Francisco Chronicle freelancer and chief editor of multiple Ed Rosenthal books, including The Big Book of Buds Greatest Hits and This Bud’s For You.

These cannabis journalists—reporters, freelance writers, editors, bloggers, podcasters, photographers, videographers and more—play a crucial role in the modern media space. And they’re sharing information everywhere: On the web, in print, newsletters in your inbox, your podcast feed and beyond.

Meet the Cannabis Reporters Illuminating Our Industry

With this series, we want to spotlight and honor the journalists that are bringing cannabis to the mainstream and helping destigmatize the plant, while also keeping the cannabis industry honest.

Of course Ellen is a peer and friend to many of these cannabis journalists, and she is equally passionate to share the stories of the most prominent writers in the space as she is some of the emerging creatives, because she recognizes the potential of the Cannabis Journalist Q&A to become an archive and historical record of sorts.

And that’s important, when you think about it

So far, Ellen has taken us all on a journalistic joyride, sharing the inside stories of hard-working people dedicated to keeping us informed and aware. And given Ellen’s immense bonafides, we couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide of the towering contributions from cannabis journalists near and far. This list will only continue to grow:

Bill Weinberg is a 30-year journalism veteran whose cannabis coverage includes politics, social justice, drug policy reform and human rights.

Rachelle Gordon relates her own experience to trends in social justice and drug policy reform for the likes of High Times, Cannabis Now, Sweet Jane and others.

Warren Bobrow pours his passion for the plant into his probing Q&As for Forbes.

Javier Hasse at Benzinga produces outstanding business-minded cannabis coverage in English and Spanish.

K. Astre is the former editor of Cannabis Now Magazine and brings cannabis wellness coverage to Leafly, High Times, Merry Jane, Forbes and more.

Ed Murrieta writes about cannabis culture, particularly food and lifestyle, for the San Francisco Chronicle, Leafly, The Cannabist and others.

Gracie Malley is a photojournalist who delivers visual impact for Cannabis Now Magazine.

Madison Margolin still covers cannabis—and now psychedelic substances in the magazine she co-founded, Doubleblind.

Katie Shapiro writes about the red-hot emerging luxury cannabis market for Forbes and Colorado cannabis for The Aspen Times.

Tauhid Chapell uses his years of experience working at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer and firsthand perspective as a medical cannabis patient to write about stigmatization.

Jeremy Berke covers the nitty gritty of cannabis economics for Business Insider.

Ellen Komp keeps cannabis history alive for Cannabis Now, High Times, Leafly and her own publications such as the 215 Reporter, Very Important Potheads and Tokin Woman.

Joe Dolce combined his journalism and avid cannabis use to create the Brave New Weed book and popular namesake podcast.

Alice O’ Leary Randall is a longtime medical marijuana advocate who turned her passion for the plant into a journalism career with the Huffington Post, High Times and Cannabis Now.

Mike Adams dove into writing about cannabis culture for High Times after interviewing Tommy Chong for Playboy and has since become one of the most-read reporters in the space.

Mary Carreon has illuminated emerging cannabis markets for OC Weekly, Forbes, Sensi and held the role of Editor-in-Chief of Merry Jane.

Amanda Siebert writes about Canada’s relationship with cannabis for a variety of publications including Vice, The New York Times and her own independent outlet, Inside the Jar.

Zack Ruskin began covering the San Francisco Bay Area weed beat for SF Weekly and has since expanded to Vanity Fair, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Merry Jane and many others.

Donnell Alexander spotlights cultural storytelling as the cannabis community writer and producer for WeedWeek.

Shango Los has been devoted to delving into expert insight and sharing research-based information about cannabis medicine for Ganjapreneur and his own podcast, Shaping Fire.

Mona Zhang dives deep into state-by-state cannabis coverage around issues like legalization and hemp policies for High Times, Forbes, Vice, High Times and, most recently, Politico.

Jimi Devine focuses on shining a light on the exclusive realm of cannabis breeders who are creating the world’s newest strains as the main cannabis columnist and critic for LA Weekly.

Brian “Box” Brown is an award-winning comic-strip author, graphic novelist and advocate spotlighting who is dialed in and who is shut out when it comes to legalization.

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