When the Gazette launched a five-part series on marijuana on Sunday, April 30, we couldn't help but recall the last time the daily attempted such an endeavor. In March 2015, the Gazette published a series called "Clearing the Haze," billed as a "perspective series [...] that examines health, social, regulatory and financial issues associated with the world's boldest experiment with legal marijuana."
It was printed in the news section, though it lacked the objectivity and balance that would normally merit that placement. The pieces all took a blatantly anti-marijuana angle. Headlines included: "No tax windfall from medical, retail sales," "Regulation still ineffective," "Legalization didn't unclog prisons," and "Babies, children at risk." The bylines on the articles hinted at what they truly were: editorials disguised as news. The pieces were authored by Wayne Laugesen, Pula Davis and Christie Tatum — none of whom work in the paper's news department and two of whom had conflicts of interest. After the Indy and many other journalistic outfits and their readers called out the series for what it was — propaganda — the bylines on "Clearing the Haze" were changed online to Gazette Op-Ed.
OK, so that's why we felt uneasy when first opening up the Gazette's new marijuana series. Would this be just another Reefer Madness-style smear of legal pot? How many journalistic fires would we have to put out here, just to clear the haze of the daily's notorious bias?
After reading the five-part series online, we're happy to report that the Gazette's "State of Marijuana" is, indeed, real journalism. Right off the bat, we noticed the bylines — Jakob Rodgers, Lance Benzel, Kaitlin Durbin, Matt Steiner (who has since gone to work for the county), and Peter Marcus — are all news, not opinion, writers. A good start! And the pieces themselves are well-balanced and well-reported.
"Politics of pot" looks at the legislative landscape, three years into legalization. "Pot on the plains" is about Sedgwick — a tiny town in northeast Colorado that nearly disappeared before revitalizing thanks to their marijuana dispensary. "Black market" explores how law enforcement and lawmakers are dealing with the persistence of illegal cultivation and sales, particularly in residential areas. Pueblo — or, "the Napa Valley of Weed" as I guess we've all agreed to call it now — gets the limelight in "Marijuana capit[a]l," a piece that asks, smartly, whether "marijuana [can] truly fill the void created by all those departed steel jobs?" And the last part in the series, "Remaking Manitou," explores the benefits two recreational pot shops have brought to the only municipality in the county that allows them. The article notes that,"General fund operations have doubled in the past five years" and concludes with Manitou Mayor Nicole Nicoletta inviting Colorado Springs city officials to come check it all out for themselves.
So, as much as we enjoy lambasting our hometown rival when it's warranted, this time we can honestly say their marijuana series is worth a read. And if that's not a sign of the progress we've made under marijuana legalization, we're not sure what is.