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The >em>Denver Post</em>. Photo: the Denver Post

The Denver Post. Photo: the Denver Post

A major US newspaper has cut its cannabis section, which was considered to be ground-breaking, being the first of its kind for a major media outlet. The Denver Post, the largest newspaper in Colorado, which is owned by New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital, has this year reduced the headcount of its newsroom by 30 – a third – with the latest layoffs being the whole of this section, The Cannabist.

Its esteemed editor

It took the Post four months to find an editor for its cannabis section. Alex Pasquariello occupied the role for a year. He professed that “I came here to lead The Cannabist, and I feel I’ve succeeded” and “I fought for The Cannabist until the end.” He termed the layoffs “obviously, a huge disappointment” and “a huge loss to cannabis journalism and credible industry news.” There will no longer be seven full-time staff dedicated to this section, although it will continue to exist, populated by whichever articles contain the word “marijuana” – bots, in other words.

Debate

A tweet-storm ensued, initiated by Jake Browne, one of The Cannabist’s first hires. He declared, “One of the great experiments in journalism is, for all intents and purposes, dead today,” which he described as “the story of stupid, stupid hedge funds.” He will go on to be the managing editor of Sensi Magazine, while marijuana critic Ry Prichard will soon host TV station Viceland’s very popular show, Bong Appétit.

Ricardo Baca was with the Denver Post for 15 years, leaving late in 2016 to establish Grasslands, which bills itself as “a Journalist-Minded Agency” and works in the marijuana and blockchain industries. He was the first editor of the Post’s cannabis section. He was honoured by Fortune as one of the “7 Most Powerful People in America’s Marijuana Industry” and by the Brookings Institution as one of “12 Key People to Watch in Marijuana Policy.” He announced that he was “heartbroken and gutted.” The Cannabist had, he stated, “avoided the blind, pro-legalisation activism of publications like High Times” and was “an objective news source” which countered the “prohibitionist misinformation” of the last 80 years. As evidence, he cited The Cannabist’s coverage of inaccurate THC levels on edibles and the presence of pesticides in other cannabis products. More people read The Cannabist online than High Times.

Might a saviour be found?

Lee Ann Colacioppo, the Denver Post’s editor, declined to comment, claiming to be unable to discuss the paper’s doings despite being, like, in charge of it. Grasslands might purchase the Post’s cannabis section if the paper is amenable and, as Baca put it, “the price is right.” Baca spoke of “people in the community who I know are interested” if Grasslands is unable to find funding itself. The Cannabist, after all, is “essential to the community.” He hoped that, with his history, he would be favoured over other potential buyers.

In a rare act of public rebellion against a newspaper’s own owners, the Post published editorial and other articles lambasting Alden Global and calling for the paper to be sold to owners who were prepared to invest in it. The Post has been going for 126 years. Another newspaper ultimately owned by Alden, the Boulder Camera, rejected a similar article by its editorial page editor, Dave Krieger, who published it on a personal blog, which allegedly got him fired.

In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalise recreational usage of cannabis. With so many states – 30 – legalising cannabis for medical uses and some – eight – for recreational, interest in cannabis issues is at an all-time high, so a newspaper ought to have a cannabis section. Baca labelled Alden Global as “vulture capitalists” who “are literally hated throughout Denver.”

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