The media’s romance with the cannabis industry
The cannabis industry has all the juicy elements to keep the media buzzing over it.
- The war on drugs;
- Shocking recoveries in medical cases where Western medicine failed;
- Big money politics;
- Billions of dollars in revenue for governments and businesses;
- Heated legalization debates.
Sound familiar? In the wake of the legalization of medical cannabis in 33 U.S. (United States) states so far, and the legalization of adult-use in 10 states, for example, the media has ramped up its coverage of the cannabis industry significantly.
However, despite the rich variety of elements to cover, media outlets only double down on certain aspects of the industry to keep their audiences locked in. Thus, in most cases, their coverage has been trivial and biased, and balanced reports have become rare gems.
Mike Hoyt, a renowned Columbia journalism professor, pointed out that the U.S. is experiencing a “major cultural, legal, and economic shift on cannabis.” Hoyt questioned the implications of such shifts as the affect those three sectors of society, citing them as areas in need of significant journalism when relating to cannabis.
The media wears a lot of hats on virtually every topic, and cannabis is one of them. Marijuana use has seen some negative coverage, as well as its recent positive coverage, making it an evolving arena for the media. Public opinion seems to go the way of such coverage and, perhaps, vice versa.
Given the multiple views taken by the media during different eras, it’s difficult to say which, if any, fair coverage is. When coverage was negative during the war on drugs era, was that fair? Today’s coverage of cannabis’ beneficial medical attributes — is it fair? The fairness of the media is a highly debatable topic, one that we explore further with a few questions.
Examining the media’s coverage of cannabis with 4 questions
1. Which department of media houses should be responsible for covering cannabis?
Up til now, there’s no rule of thumb concerning which particular department of media houses should be charged with covering cannabis. Cannabis coverage cuts across a vast array of subjects, from criminal justice to lifestyle to alternative medicine and pharmaceuticals. But in the last few years, business reporters have done most of the cannabis beats for various media outlets. For instance, the Economist used to assign tasks related to cannabis features to people who covered crime and terrorism, but the media outlet is now more inclined to turn those tasks to business reporters covering retail — including alcohol and cigarettes.
As prohibition is gradually phasing out, we expect more health and lifestyle reporters to be drafted into the ranks of cannabis reporters.
2. Has positive bias influenced the current media coverage of cannabis?
Most of the people who’re more inclined to cover cannabis in their publications are themselves users or aficionados of the drug. Therefore, they’ll most likely cover cannabis issues with kid gloves. In other words, they might ignore hot-button, negative issues and challenges currently undermining the industry, such as proper quality checks for products, impaired driving, the danger of cannabis use among teens, etc.
3. What type of cannabis stories are being prioritized?
As earlier stated, the cannabis industry provides a variety of news-worthy stories. However, media houses base their selection of stories on those that sell, not on those that can serve up actionable, valuable information. Although the consensus is for the media to cover it all, there’s a widespread tendency among editors to cherry-pick stories that rake in more clicks.
4. What sources are they getting information from?
With the current conundrum caused by the conflict between state laws and federal laws, journalists can be fazed about what central authority to turn to for accurate information. As such, it’s been indirectly left to the discretion of media houses to determine which government sources to gather information from. For instance, public company coverage has largely ignored warnings issued by the SEC against investing in cannabis companies, focusing instead on the daily and weekly fluctuations of volatile cannabis stocks.
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions reveal a shortfall of insightful, investigative coverage on the pros and cons of the cannabis industry. To boot, there are hardly any original pieces that are products of diligent journalistic work. What we’re seeing is more of regurgitated “facts”, myths, and recycled stories, a lot of which may be biased by the media houses or the journalists themselves. This creates a media climate for cannabis coverage that is far from balanced and fair.