By Mike Meno
The marijuana policy reform movement has spent decades waging an uphill battle to be taken seriously by the mainstream media. So it’s with some hesitancy that I wonder, Could those days finally be over? Recently, there’s been a noticeable surge in the coverage that print, online and broadcast media have given to marijuana-related issues – from the debate over legalization in California to the economics of combating Mexican drug cartels – and for the most part, it’s been pretty damn serious.
In the month of October alone, there has been:
- A substantial story in the Oct. 2 Wall Street Journal on the prospects for a proposed California ballot measure to end marijuana prohibition in the state, featuring thoughtful and serious comments from a number of observers, including MPP’s Aaron Smith.
- An Oct. 7 front-page article in the Washington Post explaining how America’s emerging medical marijuana market “threatens the bottom line for powerful Mexican drug organizations in a way that decades of arrests and seizures have not.”
- An Oct. 7 article by the Associated Press about the growing support for ending marijuana prohibition in California. (The article was picked up by many major metropolitan news sources, including The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and St. Louis Today.)
- An Oct. 9 front-page article in The New York Times about shortcomings in New Mexico’s medical marijuana law that forces patients, caregivers and suppliers to continue working “in the shadows.”
- An Oct. 14 segment on PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” featuring Oaksterdam University and the case for taxing and regulating marijuana in California.
- A pair of Oct. 15 online articles in Newsweek.com examining the status of medical marijuana and the battle for legalization in Oakland and Los Angeles.
- And, during the week of Oct. 19 to 24, Fox Business News will be airing a series called “Inside the World of Medical Marijuana.” Every day at “high noon” the channel will air a different news story about medical marijuana.
Taken together, this sampling of prominent, mostly positive, and consistently thoughtful news coverage – happily lacking in snickering pothead references and silly puns – demonstrates great reason for optimism. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that negative or sloppy coverage has ceased altogether. There are still numerous cases of lackluster reporting or lazy fact checking that result in stories advancing inaccurate myths about marijuana, often headlined by prohibitionists and government sources screaming “Gateway!” or “Children!” and confusing the effects of marijuana with the effects of prohibition.
But one thing is certain: Marijuana, as an issue, is getting more and more attention in the everyday news cycle. And as supporters of marijuana policy reform, we all need to be vigilant to take advantage of this opportunity.
To make sure that marijuana issues are presented in the best, most accurate, and most favorable light possible, supporters of policy reform need to help organizations such as MPP act as media watchdogs. So keep an eye on coverage, and most importantly, don’t hesitate to provide feedback, through emails, call-ins and letters to the editor, not only to national media outlets, but local ones as well. The debate over marijuana is an issue that is playing out not just in Washington, but in tiny municipalities and town halls across the country. How this issue gets framed in the media will have a colossal impact on how undecided voters and citizens view it.
Luckily for us, this story doesn’t require any bend or distortion. In the debate over marijuana policy, as the facts become known, the prohibitionists lose. More and more Americans are realizing this every day. The marijuana issue is no longer in the shadows.
It’s becoming mainstream.
Mike Meno is assistant director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.