There's a lot about the Boston media that has confused the pants off me since I arrived here a decade ago. Like how scrappy nonunion indie outlets typically back tradesmen and city workers, while union sheets and dues-paying reporters relentlessly harangue labor. But of all the counter-intuitive shockers festering in my cage of pet peeves, none perplex me quite as much as baby boomer animosity toward pot reform, and residually toward those medical marijuana patients who would benefit if prohibition were dismantled.
The multilateral assault on cannabis hit a fever pitch last month, when the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that nine of the initial twenty dispensary applicants failed to qualify for the next stage of their licensing gauntlet. It's a development that can be largely linked to the detective work of various reporters. From discovering discrepancies in paperwork, to learning about DPH decisions prior to the applicants in certain cases, it almost seems as if The Boston Globe and Boston Herald in particular colluded with the state and everybody else who fears a reefer scourge.
I'll abstain from cherry-picking coverage that I find unfortunate. Same goes for the kind stuff, as there have certainly been several interesting pieces, mostly on the people who are angling to usher in a legal and mature cannabis culture. I'm simply asking that reporters think a lot more critically about this issue.
As the news editor of the only aggressively anti-prohibition paper in town, I can proudly say that our coverage reflects the majority public opinion. There are no absolutes – we have, for example, addressed the spat between medical pot advocates and those pushing for full legalization. But we universally apply an underlying belief, affirmed to varying degrees by Massachusetts voters twice now, that green is good. Sort of like how nearly everybody to the left of Limbaugh appropriately covers warming oceans and gay marriage these days, with the benefit of the doubt going to progressive, not regressive forces, and to researchers instead of rhetoric. Too many of you enter from the other side, holding marijuana guilty until proven innocent by bureaucrats or your own editorial boards. That's when you're not making jokes about the munchies and giggling like a rookie smoker, or shamelessly sensationalizing with stock footage of grandma taking bong hits.
If my approach seems to mock traditional objective ideals, then consider just how glaringly subjective pot reporting has been thus far. Because if outlets really valued objectivity, then they would quote a patient in distress to counter every claim by DPH officials holding back the process. Furthermore, they would harangue politicians who baselessly equate cannabis with opiates, and perhaps even skewer banks for discriminating against caregivers. If objectivity was truly what the press sought in this matter, they would have recognized Steve D'Angelo, whose proposed Boston operation was derailed by the DPH last month, as America's leading nonprofit dispensary owner. Instead, D'Angelo was branded as a felon for a weed-related protest crime committed long ago.
I'm not saying all producers and editors need to literally pass the peace pipe. I am, however, suggesting that the Massachusetts media in general grow up and stop kidding itself. You're covering pot for clicks. And eyeballs. Plain and simple. If restaurant licensing spurred comparably sexy headlines, you'd impugn beer, wine, and victual apps with the same gusto with which the Globe has analyzed DPH paperwork. Medical herb is here to stay, and it's important for the press to keep track of this alternative culture as it buds into a booming industry. But unless hard facts and compassion take journalistic precedent over stubborn stoner taboos, you'll end up on the same side of recorded history as homophobes and climate change deniers.
Chris Faraone is the News + Features editor of DigBoston, where his responsibilities include wrangling the weekly Blunt Truth and Media Farm columns.