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Whether you like it or not, if you live in Colorado, your world changed on Jan. 1, 2014. That was the day marijuana became legal recreationally and it has been rolled up, I mean, it has rolled off the shelves ever since.
Fast-forward two years and upwards of $1.7 billion in revenue later, marijuana seems like it’s here to stay in Colorado. The industry is booming, especially with the growth of weed tourism and events like the Cannabis Cup that attract upwards of 50,000 people. The growth of the industry has been astronomical and there are no signs it will be slowing down anytime soon.
On the flip side, it is no secret that the newspaper industry is struggling. Today, people get most of their information from the Internet. Evidence of that in Colorado was the fall in 2009 of one of Denver’s oldest newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News. Newspapers have begun to take calculated risks, and that brings us to the topic of a brand new documentary called Rolling Papers.
Rolling Papers is a documentary about the creation of pot journalism that started right here in Colorado. What used to be taboo — writing about marijuana — is now a mainstay in Colorado thanks to the brashness of the Denver Post.
In 2013, the Denver Post approved the creation of the first ever section dedicated solely to marijuana, cleverly named the Cannabist. The film takes you through the creation of the Cannabist and the development of the completely new field of weed journalism.
Ricardo Baca, a former entertainment editor for the Denver Post, founded the Cannabist in 2013 and the site is staffed with a growing cast of editors, writers and critics. It contains anything from pot political news, pot culture, pot recipes, pot history and really anything of journalistic value involving pot. The film portrays the Cannabist as a true pioneer of weed journalism.
Cannabist writer Jake Browne held a Q&A along with Ricardo Baca after the film premiered in Boulder and emphasized how important it is for the Cannabist to be considered legitimate journalism.
“I think everyone would point to High Times as the high-water mark of cannabis journalism,” said Browne. “An ability of the Cannabist is to engage people about things that are pro pot but also be able to be some of the harshest critics of pot.”
The Cannabist knows that for it to be taken seriously it has to focus on upholding journalistic values such as objectivity and balance.
“The ability to truly champion both sides of the issue is what’s new and innovative in this space,” said Browne. “Not everything is going to be seen through green colored classes.”
The documentary for the most part is lighthearted, containing enough greenery to make any pot user sit up in his seat. However, the film doesn’t dodge some of the more controversial topics of marijuana including medical use, youth prevention and parenting as a pot user.
These issues are ever more complex in a legalized state such as Colorado, and that is what makes the topic of marijuana that much more interesting. Baca sees marijuana, good or the bad, as something that evolves as society does.
“Everything has changed in this space, whether it is cannabis entertainment or marijuana journalism. It is not as interesting or as flashy as it once was…. It has changed dramatically and it goes along with American’s views changing dramatically.”
The direction weed journalism will go is still unknown, but so far things have been looking up. Greg Moore, editor-in-chief at the Denver Post, commented in the documentary saying sales have gone up since the release of the cannabis and that the Post is looking at a monthly marijuana magazine. Baca acknowledges that he had no idea what to expect when making the Cannabist and despite its success knows it is all just a trial run.
“If this is still working we will go with it but if it’s not we will cut it. We understand that the Cannabist isn’t going to live forever so this is a specified amount of time; we are having fun with it now.”
If I learned anything from Rolling Papers, I learned that living in the moment is really all you can do in the field of marijuana journalism. If or when other states get legalized might be the only way we will know if weed journalism will spread and if it is here to stay. All we know now is that Colorado has tried it and the sky hasn’t fallen.
Rolling Papers opened in select theatres on Feb. 19 and is now available on demand.
Check out the Cannabist at http://www.thecannabist.co/