Many people in Oregon have been wondering why The Oregonian, the largest paper in the Northwest, would devote so much time to covering all things marijuana. The paper has a reporter, Noelle Crombie, covering the marijuana beat full-time and a few other reporters chipping in as well. Some long-time activists, who may remember that the paper once put quotes around “medical” when discussing “medical” marijuana, are somewhat distrustful of the coverage, while others welcome the mainstreaming of the coverage, especially when the paper endorsed New Approach Oregon’s Measure 91 legalization initiative in 2014.
Prohibitionists probably don’t approve of a relatively objective look at cannabis policy, wishing for the days of biased coverage that supported the Drug War. The Oregonian has one loyal reader, Dick Thomas, that has even taken the time to write detailed, multi-page memos each and every week critiquing the “fact” that the paper is “urging its readers to worship, grow and smoke dope.” The Oregonian’s Mark Katches has a great response that is well worth reading in full:
The legalization of marijuana and the start of recreational sales represent a dramatic sea change for Oregon. It’s an economic story. It’s a law enforcement story. It’s a healthcare story. It comes with cultural, political and environmental tentacles that spread far and wide. For many people, it represents a hard-won liberty – similar to the repeal of Prohibition. For many others, the new law feels both reckless and scary.
Like me, you may never want to buy it, sell it, grow it, or smoke it. But there’s no escaping the fact that legal marijuana will impact all of us – whether it’s a proliferation of new shops sprouting up in our communities, the potential impact on neighborhood safety or the way drug testing is managed in the places we work.
As the largest newsroom in the state, we are obligated to write about this historic shift, to explore the ramifications and to dive deeply into the details of how the new law will be implemented. That includes the kind of watchdog journalism we produced in March when we wrote about inaccurate labeling of THC levels in marijuana edibles and in June when we exposed the alarming use of pesticides in medical marijuana.
We’ve been getting more and more comments and messages criticizing our coverage and critique of presidential candidate’s stances on cannabis, wondering why “smoking dope” is so important to us when there is so many more important issues facing our nation. We respond that ending marijuana prohibition is ultimately about freedom, but that it also impacts many issues facing our country, from our economy to criminal justice policy to prioritization of resources.
A president’s marijuana policy demonstrates the commitment to local democracy and how important the bigger issues of the day are to the president. If the president argues that terrorism is an important issue of the day, then why would so many resources and time go towards investigating, arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning nonviolent people who are acting in compliance with state law?
The Oregonian is right to cover marijuana extensively because it does impact so much of our current lives, from cultural changes to the formation of a new industry to how much money we spend on prisons versus education. With federal marijuana policy gaining more importance as more states legalize marijuana, the cannabis conversation isn’t going away and the media will certainly be covering it, likely keeping Dick Thomas busy writing memos.