“Academia and the media have come to embrace this newly formed landscape — Forbes, the Washington Times, the Economist, and VICE are among the many publications that regularly feature cannabis content.”
As the cannabis industry continues to flourish and build bridges between industries, the topic is becoming more relevant across fields including business, technology, medicine, finance, and of course, journalism. Our views of marijuana are changing, and its scope is only widening.
The majority of Americans — 53 percent as of April 2015 — favor legalization, particularly when it comes to medicinal marijuana as shown by the national nonpartisan fact tank, the Pew Research Center. In fact, according to the center’s People and Press report, 73 percent of Americans support medical marijuana laws within their own states. There is no doubt that the legalization debate, and cannabis culture in general, has become a part of mainstream media.
Academia and the media have come to embrace this newly formed landscape — Forbes, the Washington Times, the Economist, and VICE are among the many publications that regularly feature cannabis content. In 2015, the University of Denver became the first to offer a cannabis journalism course, bridging the intersection between media and marijuana.
This summer, the 10-week journalism workshop will include an emphasis on cannabis journalism, and a lecture from Downs. The workshop, he says, is intended to create media awareness for both news producers and consumers.
Incorporating cannabis journalism into the curriculum is exciting for Downs, who began guest lecturing at the university after his column, Legalization Nation, caught the attention of professor Katya Cengel. “Students totally dug my lecture, [they were] super engaged. I saw that this was something that was peaking their interest,” he describes. He now lectures as a part of the journalism workshop. “It just short of struck a nerve with the media – traditional journalism is dying – cannabis publications are growing.”
“I think it is the future of higher education to include cannabis as part of the mainstream [media], and journalism is certainly part of that.” He adds, “There is a place for high quality writing [when reporting on cannabis related topics] – just like any other business,” he adds. Though the days of sensationalism and ‘tabloid-y’ coverage aren’t entirely gone, Downs says the amount of responsible cannabis journalism is increasing just in comparison to five years ago.
Downs is a pioneer in the field of cannabis journalism. The San Francisco-based writer has spearheaded the legalization discussion and cannabis culture since 2009. That year, Downs began to cover the cannabis beat for his weekly column, Legalization Nation. The column, which is published in the East Bay Express, was created to cover California’s Proposition 19 more effectively, he describes. Legalization Nation was one of the West Coast’s first alternative weekly news columns to approach and investigate the topic seriously, says Downs. Although the prop didn’t pass, the column’s readership and feedback opened doors for Downs, and fellow cannabis journalist.
Since launching his career as a freelance journalist in 2008, Downs – who holds a degree in English Literature from University of California Santa Barbara – has been featured in Wired Magazine, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone. In addition to co-founding the podcast, The Hash, he is also Editor in Chief of the SFGate.com column, Smell The Truth. Downs continues to spearhead several cannabis-related projects and publications including his book, “The Medical Marijuana Guidebook,” and soon to be released this summer, “Marijuana Harvest,” co-written by Ed Rosenthal. “I like that idea that I am contributing to the new field,” he adds, “It is clear that we are at the beginning of a new era of cannabis cultivation and plant science.”
During his time in the field, Downs explains that the conversations surrounding cannabis have elevated. “More and more [people] are coming around to acknowledging the facts on the ground,” but, he adds, there is still a need for responsible and sensitive reporting, especially as the election approaches. “I want to see the press do their job, hold people accountable – make society smarter not crazier.”
While the field of cannabis journalism is still only in its infancy, Downs says the future of the field will continue to move beyond legalization to focus on issues such as expungements, ownership, innovation, scientific advancements and gender equality. “It’s just about being true to what’s there. These things are due.”
Written by Melissa Hutsell
For more information on David Downs and his work, check out: USMMJ.org The Hash.org
Catch David Downs at the Cannabis Author Showcase in San Francisco on August 17, 2016. Downs also welcomes audiences to the book release party for “The Medical Marijuana Guidebook” on September 16, 2016 at 6 p.m. at Jack London Square in Oakland, California.