Get to know some of the most important and dedicated cannabis journalists on the beat in this weekly Q&A blog series.
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.
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. I broke news on the regs. I worked with colleagues throughout the newsroom. I created a standalone news 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 Grasslands in late-2016. And while I’ve written columns for The Daily Beast, Cannabis Now, mg 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.
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.
These cannabis journalists, bloggers, podcasters and photographers play a crucial role in the modern marijuana space—and I’m proud to help launch the Cannabis Journalist Q&A, a weekly series curated, reported and written by Oakland-based journalist Ellen Holland, former Senior Editor of Cannabis Now magazine, 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.
In the next year-plus, Ellen will take us all on a joyride—introducing us to some of the most important and dedicated cannabis journalists on the beat. And given Ellen’s immense bonafides, we couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide.
Just think about some of today’s towering contributions from cannabis journalists near and far.
Tom Angell’s Marijuana Moment has become an essential read for its razor-sharp coverage of cannabis policy at all levels.
Javier Hasse and his team at Benzinga produce outstanding business-minded cannabis coverage.
Katie Shapiro covers the red-hot emerging luxury cannabis market for Forbes.
Warren Bobrow pours his passion for the plant into his probing Q&As for Forbes.
And there are also the cannabis journalists who specialize in different formats, from newsletters to photography, podcasts to blogs and beyond. 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.
I’ll close this tribute to cannabis journalists—and introduction to Grasslands’ Cannabis Journalist Q&A—with a brief story that I feel really ties the room together. 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 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 like marijuana.
Because my colleagues and I at The Post and The Cannabist were covering this new 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.”
And looking back over these last five years, they weren’t wrong.
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.