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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Marijuana reviews: Advocating vice?

Dining out at a restaurant, watching a show or buying a book—you can always refer to a review on a local newspaper before making the decision. Now you can do the same thing for getting some weed if you are in Oregon.

The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, is recruiting a marijuana reviewer. Oregon became the fourth state legalizing recreational use of marijuana Oct. 1.

“The candidate should be an experienced cannabis consumer with deep knowledge about the variety of strains and products available on the Oregon market,” the job posting says.

The marijuana review is not brand-new invention, with the Cannabist, a supplement to the Denver Post, as the most prominent precedent. Nor is the ethical controversy over the media coverage about marijuana.

The press needs to be careful about its coverage about marijuana because lobbyists from both sides are willing to provide false information to sway marijuana public policy, said Roy Peter Clark, vice-president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in an email.

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Serving the public?

The rapid change of media landscape has blurred many traditional borders, but news organizations should make sure that their practices serve the public interest, Clark said. And for him, pot reviews are not necessarily part of this task.

“We don’t do that for cigarettes,” he said. “We don’t do that for pharmaceuticals in general.”

And, he said he doesn’t see how pot is different.

“It’s hard to see the benefit of doing it for marijuana.”

Yet the marijuana critics think they are doing a meaningful job.

Ry Prichard, a marijuana reviewer and reporter at the Cannabist, said he understands the hesitation of the mainstream media writing about recreational use of marijuana. He said the Denver Post publishes reviews separately partly because of ethical concerns.

“But marijuana is everywhere here,” Prichard said. He thinks that journalists are responsible to report the large-scale discussion about marijuana after legalization in Colorado, and to reflect the popularity of recreational consumption in real life.

Prichard considers himself also as an educator when writing reviews, providing the public with necessary knowledge for purchasing marijuana. In a recently published review, Prichard reminded consumers to beware of the mislabeling of marijuana strains.

Organizations advocating more cautious regulations regarding marijuana still worry about mainstream news media like the Oregonian reviewing marijuana.

Kevin Sabot, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana , said in an email that news media are promoting a dangerous lifestyle. The critics are generalizing their own experience of marijuana being harmless to a wide audience, he said.

The reporter covering marijuana issue for the Oregonian and her editor both declined to comment.

Serving the industry?

The media are empowering the pot industry with a free pass, and attenuating the scientific debate about the effects of marijuana, Sabot said.

Sabot also said he thinks the journalists working behind marijuana stories may have their own skewed view and not disclaim their stance to the readers sufficiently.

He used the Huffington Post as an example. Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of Huffington Post, is also an honorary board member of the Drug Policy Alliance, a biggest organization advocating the decriminalization of marijuana use in the US. She has written commentary about the legalization debate for her website.

Prichard, who pays for the marijuana himself, said reviewing adult-only products can be a dicey job. But he does not think wine or beer reviews are more morally justified, either.

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