09/04/16 Susan Squibb

This week is part three of our Seattle Hempfest Special, with Susan Squibb, Shango Los, David Nott, Dominic Corva, and Century host Doug McVay talk about cannabis and the media.

Century of Lies
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Susan Squibb
Download: Audio icon col090416.mp3





DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay.

This week is part three of our Seattle Hempfest Special. Today, a bit of introspection, as we look at marijuana and the media. The Hempfest Hemposium Stage is home to panel discussions, keynote speeches, and the like. It's my favorite stage, to me it kind of makes Hempfest into a conference that happens to have a music festival going on out back. It's brilliant.

On the last day of Hempfest 2016, the Hemposium opened with a panel titled Media: New Respect For Cannabis. The panel was moderated by Dominic Corva, from the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. The audio starts with the panel introducing ourselves, so in order, you are about to hear David Nott, President of the Reason Foundation; Shango Los, publisher of Ganjapreneur; me; and Susan Squibb, the Cannabis Maven, who writes for The Cannabist.

DAVID NOTT: So you can mark the progression of medical cannabis from state to state to where we have a large number of states. You can mark the progress of legalization. You can mark the level of national electoral politics. I think it's interesting that Gary Johnson, who remains the highest ranking government official really ever to come out for full legalization, got one percent of the vote four years ago and he's already polling at 10 percent this time around. And he's highly associated with the marijuana issue. So that signals greater acceptance. We're seeing the move in poll numbers. We're about to legalize in California, and I can talk more about the status of that if people are interested later.

We also see though in a larger context, this national conversation about criminal justice reform, which covers everything from #BlackLivesMatter and street policing and body cameras to sentencing reform. And the Senate committee on criminal -- the legal committee actually brought out of committee some very good sentencing reforms in the last cycle. They didn't have the support in the House, but then even, you know, we just see progress on all of these fronts, and I think media is, as what we are and what most of these people do is, we're following the news, we're following the culture, and we're reporting to audiences on what they want to hear about and what they want to talk about, which is what is happening now.

So for us, the title of the panel, "A New Respect," is just that the state of play in all of these issues and all of these debates has moved towards greater civil liberties, towards more transparent and accountable law enforcement practices, and to less incarceration for consensual adult behavior. So I'll leave that as my opening.

SHANGO LOS: Check. My name is Shango Los. For the last year or so, I've been co-founder of Ganjapreneur, an online business cannabis resource for news. We only focus on business. I also was the podcast host for the Ganjapreneur.com show, where we talk to folks in the start-up cannabis industry. And, that was great. We were, you know, about 30,000 listeners a week, so that was a good thing. But now I'm moving forward, I have now started a new podcast called Shaping Fire, that focuses on innovation and disruption in the cannabis industry, which is, you know, something that we experience on a daily basis now. There's more, probably, disruption and innovation than there is stability at this point.

I'm also here locally from Vashon Island, where I founded the local cannabis trade organization there, which is going through some growing pains right now since the passing of 5052 here in Washington. Our membership has gone from 156 cannabis producers to now 4, because with the dismantling of medical, everybody's either gone out of business or underground. So, my specialty is talking to entrepreneurs and folks putting together cannabis start-ups, and the study of the new cannabis media groups themselves.

DOUG MCVAY: Good morning. As Dominic -- and thank you very much, that was very kind, very kind -- Dominic mentioned, my name is Doug McVay, I am -- there we go -- I'm the editor of DrugWarFacts.org, that actually started before me, I lucked into the job, done it for 16 years. I have also -- you'll find my byline a few different places. I write for Celebstoner, have a blog there. I'm doing a story on Hempfest for Freedom Leaf Magazine. And yes, I have my phone right here with me because I'm keeping my time but I'm also working on a story right now, which I will not tell you because there are other reporters here and they will steal my story, because we are all competitive hungry little bastards and, well, bastardettes, and we want to get our bylines out, that's what it is.

The -- Oh, and I also do some radio work, which is why it was weird saying a slightly risque word into a microphone just then. I'm a reporter, I do public affairs and news programming at KBOO radio in Portland, Oregon. I just started a show down there called Free Culture Radio, which is about drugs, drug cultures, and the effect of drugs on society, it's inescapable, it's unavoidable, and frankly it's necessary, so it's a good thing. I'll be looking at all kinds of drug cultures, in a few months I'll have a show about cannabis, next month though is, well, it's Oktoberfest, and it is Portland, so we will have to talk about Portland's favorite drug, which is beer.

Media: New Respect For Cannabis. Wow, interesting. Okeh, so you've got the cannabis media, those, there've been folks around for years, there's High Times, Cannabis Culture, and then we started getting the technology so podcasts started, Russ has 420 Radio, and Casper has Time 4 Hemp, and now there's Cannabis Radio, which is going on, and I'm -- one of the shows I do, oh, I also do a weekly radio show called Century Of Lies. The, in fact, today is, there's a new episode up with audio from Friday's Hempfest, including the party. DrugTruth.net, you'll find that. Dean Becker's been doing that radio work for more than 15 years, 16, 17 years now, out of KPFT-FM in Houston, Texas.

I shouldn't, because technology, you know, podcasts, everybody can do this. Yeah, that's the point. Radio is rather more restricted. Print is more restricted. And what's interesting is, those media have been taking marijuana and drug policy more seriously. And I think part of it is because we've been consistent. We're not crazy -- well, okeh. We've been consistent and we're right about the issues, and they appreciate that. But journalists are also under attack in this country, their freedom and the freedom to report is being limited. Newspapers are moving toward a more commercial model. Marijuana's interesting and entertaining, so it sells. But real investigative work is tough. [Ding] Was that five minutes or was that just a bell?

DOMINIC CORVA: That was just a couple of minutes.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh, good, I'm going to keep talking.

I mean, we're getting a little more respect, but part of it's because some of us are going out there and doing this stuff, like I say, I've been doing the weed work for a while, drug policy work for a very, very long time. God I'm tired. But, as I say, we're getting a lot more support. It's not just the cannabis media, it's the mainstream. Okeh, it's the bigger media. I work at KBOO, saying "mainstream" when you're at an alternative radio station is a little tricky. But, yeah. But it's true.

Anyway. I had some great thoughts, and I'm just going to wait for questions, because a real rant would probably take a while, and, yeah. That's okeh. You're at one of the biggest festivals in the country, it's been a national event for more than a decade, that is, people paid attention to it for that long. There are people all around the country, because the media look -- and even if it is, hey look at those crazy hippies. Yeah, whatever. Yeah, look at these crazy hippies, thousands of people going out there and celebrating their freedom. If you come from Iowa, like I do, or you come from a state that's even more backward, this is, this is amazing. This is what's supposed to happen. It's really, really, really encouraging, to know that something like that can happen.

So, folks where I come from see this kind of stuff. It gives them hope. I mean, thank goodness the broader spread of the media because of technology allows us to get this information out to people. Just the fact that it happens, out to more and more people, because that's going to make a lot of change, and a much better world. And I'm going to sit back.

SUSAN SQUIBB: Hello, I'm Susan Squibb. Thanks so much, Dominic, for inviting me here on the panel.

So, I, this is my seventh Hempfest. This is my twentieth year of being involved in cannabis advocacy, and hemp businesses. But I started writing about five years ago. I kind of created this moniker, Cannabis Maven, to sort of capture my knowledge of hemp and cannabis, and, so others sort of knew. It was also inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, the people, the roles that are needed to tip something into mainstream acceptance. So, there are salesmen, connectors, and mavens, and so, I'm a maven. So I became Cannabis Maven five years ago, and started writing, first it was with Marijuana Media, Colorado based. So, I was writing for different rags, the Daily Doobie, which is a short-lived magazine. And then most prominently with the Hemp Connoisseur.

And so with the Hemp Connoisseur, I would do, I would cover events, and then I also had this, I pitched this idea of a marijuana advice column as a, you know, being a woman in this space. I think women play a very significant role in mainstream media, and we're like showing that it is a place for, just for people, for everyday people, that it's something very comforting to have women around, you know, in that kind of motherly aesthetic of, well, if mom says it's okeh, if mom says marijuana is okeh, in these certain aspects, then it's okeh. So, there's sort of a moral compass that I think women bring to the issue.

And, so with the Hemp Connoisseur, there was this idea, I wanted to write a marijuana advice column, and so Miss Manners, before she was Miss Manners, in Victorian times, she was known as Lady Manners. So the title of my column was Ask Lady Manners. And so little did I know that, for that year that I was writing it, that actually would be a springboard for me to get a writing opportunity with the Cannabist, when the Cannabist, which is the Denver Post's online marijuana site, started in January of 2014. And, so I wanted to shout out to Ben, who's also a freelancer for the Cannabist.

And, like the -- so the freelancers, we do not formally represent the Cannabist. That's only something that Ricardo can do, and that's, I mean, Ricardo's a journalist, and I consider myself a marijuana writer, because I do come from -- I'm very partial in my wanting marijuana to succeed. But in my writing for the Cannabist, it is another marijuana advice column. And so I'm using primary sources for my research, and I think that's a big distinction between a lot of marijuana media and mainstream media, is, I think that marijuana media, the writer tends -- could, there's more of a tendency to put a personal spin and opinion in there, and that's something that in my work with the Cannabist, that it's, that's something that has been a process of learning for me.

That really came to light when I was writing about the issue of pregnancy and breastfeeding, because, this was really early on, this was in January, January, February, or March of 2014. And I was, you know, bringing out, oh, yes, Queen Victoria, you know, I mean, you all have heard that she used to use cannabis for her menstrual cramps, and thousands of years of use, and helped during pregnancy and labor. And Ricardo was like, uh, no. No, you can't. Like, what is the solid evidence of this? And so it really gave me a pause, and so, I had to rewrite the column, and look at what the actual sources of the information were.

And so I think that that's one of the differences between mainstream media and marijuana media. So, I just wanted to also mention that most of the top kinds of questions that I field are related to drug testing. Will I pass my drug test? I smoked this, I've done this, it's been this number of days, I have a urine test, I have a hair follicle test. Will I lose my job? Will I go back to jail? Will I pass my drug test? So, that is the number one kind of questions that I get. And then the second highest are a lot of at-home baking, and how to properly dose at-home edibles, and things that people are doing at home. And then, usually, if there's a question like the pregnancy and the breastfeeding, then there will be sort of an avalanche of questions for people, sharing their own specifics, in terms of that issue, and then wanting a personal recommendation.

So, that was kind of me and my writing in a nutshell.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now let's get back to that Hemposium panel on cannabis and the media. The next voice you hear will be the panel moderator, Doctor Dominic Corva. He'll be followed, in order, by David Nott from Reason Foundation; Shango Los from Ganjapreneur; me; and Susan Squibb, the Cannabis Maven.

DOMINIC CORVA: So, my first question is, I want to ask each of you to tell those of us here, who is your audience and how do you know when you've reached them? Who is your audience and how do you know when you've reached them? And, it's a pretty general question, I think might get some different answers. We can start with David.

DAVID NOTT: So, Reason is a libertarian organization. We are interested in free minds and free markets, and drug policy is a component of that. We measure everything we can. We have four million unique visits a month to our website, nearly half of them are younger than 35. So, and every story we write, we track what kind of traffic there was to that story, all the editors are -- have a leaderboard about who's winning audiences. So if we see that stories that blow up are things like the parents who left their kids in the front yard while they went out to the grocery store, and CPS came by and picked up the kids, those stories will blow up big. Police abuse stories tend to blow up big. Curiously, people tend to feel more sympathy for the dogs that get shot by police than the humans that get shot by police, because dogs are -- they can tell them -- they can't tell themselves that dogs aren't innocent. But when it comes to humans, they want to -- they don't want to face the idea that that really could be happening.

So that's our audience. It's -- we start with our core audience, but then, we're trying to reach the world, so we -- our staff do some 1,500 media appearances a year in external media. We track all of the media citations we get that are from other sources, and I think to echo what Susan said, to me it's not a question of mainstream versus marijuana media, it's about the aspiration in journalism is to truth telling, and to being on the record, and to correcting the record if you get it wrong. And so I think that it's, that ultimately the value of the institution of media is the delivery of knowledge and information, and those publications that do that better will build audiences, and those that are actually polemical, or not actually media but advocacy, or just kind of story telling and mythology, tend not to be as successful at the institutional level.

SHANGO LOS: So, Ganjapreneur.com gets about 100,000 unique visitors a month. And my podcast gets about 30,000 listeners a week. And, the audience is not lifestyle and music based, we really just cover business, entrepreneurs, and the law changes at the state level that will influence and effect entrepreneurs as they put together their business models. So we're pretty niche in that regard.

As far as how we know when we're reaching our audience, this is actually one of the challenges, I think, in new cannabis media, is that we judge our successes on likes and forwards and shares. And, you know, if we, if we put out an article, and it gets a thousand shares, and then it gets reshared, and then, you know, it hits feedburner and blows up or something like this, you know, we're excited, because we are increasing our traffic. And that's how our advertisers also judge the success of their commercials, or banner ads, or what have you. But I think that that is different than actually reaching an audience.

And I think that's one of the most dangerous things in online cannabis media, is an over-reliance on clicks and likes to judge success, instead of putting out meaningful articles, and it's something that we constantly, you know, as we issue the articles to reporters to go cover, it is a difficult thing on a daily basis to choose, do we want to go with the story that's going to get people riled up and excited, and be click-bait, or do we want to report the thing that may not be as sexy but people need to hear? And I think that all of the new cannabis media companies, who are trying to not burn through capital, who are trying to just survive, and are trying to build their brands, it's a constant struggle. And so, so, yeah. How we judge how we reach our people now is by clicks and numbers, and I don't think that can be the future if we're going to succeed.

DOUG MCVAY: You know, I work in alternative radio, KBOO is an affiliate of the Pacifica Radio Network. The show I do, Century of Lies, is also distributed by the Pacifica Network, because the flagship station -- the flagship show for the Drug Truth Network is Cultural Baggage, which is produced out of one of the actual Pacifica sister stations, KPFT in Houston, Texas. We're not -- you know -- okeh, I'm not really worried about how many people are listening, because we're on the very much left side of the dial, and it's more about getting ideas out there, and getting them circulating, and -- god, it's such an honor to be on this panel, it really is. You're brilliant. You're so -- I mean, ah, David, you're. And you're -- ah, this is so cool.

It's not about -- what you were just saying, actually, it's exactly that. I mean, you can do a sensational story, like the commercial networks do, which we don't do, or you can try and get -- it's boring, but it's interesting and it's factual and it's the truth, and that is -- god, sorry, just wandered there for a moment.

Oh yeah, the audience. I don't know. I've got this friend. She's really skeptical, but she's really, really smart, and, quite brilliant, and -- yeah. If she likes the show, then I know I'm doing okeh. And that's why, during the thing, an interview, I always ask if people have any more, you know, any closing comments for the listener. She's my listener. And that's the -- yeah. That's my audience. If I've convinced her, or at least entertained her, then I know I've done well. And frankly, if I see stories that I've been reporting getting picked up by other outlets, and being regurgitated in other places, without attributing anything to me because I'm used to that, it's okeh, because the ideas are out there.

The great Peter Schickele had a saying, which is so true. Ideas are like pollen, once they're in the air, you never know who's going to sneeze. And that's what it's about. Right? Obsessing on numbers, like I say, I like doing public radio, it doesn't pay, period, but you get freedom to talk about what's important.

SUSAN SQUIBB: So, the Cannabist is -- I'm not sure what the time is for this, but it's two million page views. There was an article that came out in the Denver Post that had the stats for the Cannabist site. But there's 636,000 unique visitors to the Cannabist. And the audience is, it's a combination. It's a lot of -- primarily, it's people within Colorado, but it is a global resource for information. And it seems that, you know, there's been some coverage that it's a combination of cannabis culture, strain reviews, product reviews, cooking, cooking recipes, but it's also just following the business, the business scene, and how it's unfolding in Colorado, and then also in other places, too.

But I do want to mention the importance, clearly the decentralized media and how important avenues like Facebook and Twitter have been, I think, to cannabis, in spreading information. Like, Amanda Reiman already posted -- yeah, I see you -- already posted about the panel on Facebook, and so, I just -- it's a very powerful medium that, you know, it's not necessarily a vetted source for information, people can post, you know, whatever articles, but it is a, I think, a -- major transmission for cannabis information is on social media.

DOMINIC CORVA: Can, and how might, the national media connect, draw from, or benefit from the grassroots media, and vice versa? Are there networks of information that can trickle up? Trickle down? I don't know. I'd like to ask the geographical scale, really, that you seek to reach.

DAVID NOTT: It is a continuous challenge. So, Radley Balko was a reporter for Reason Magazine, and he really was a one-man wrecking crew on criminal justice reporting. He exposed, I mean, he got a guy off death row, where there was just fraudulent forensics work in one state, and the medical examiner ended up resigning over his really great investigative reporting. And he was an important part of our franchise for some years. Well, he got hired away for way more money by the Huffington Post, and then now by the Washington Post. So the Washington Post, by hiring him, has taken a story and a niche that we owned, and taken it now to the national stage, so we have to continuously innnovate and compete with the Huffington Post and the Washington Post on once side, and then on the other side we have Ganjapreneur, who's coming in and wanting to do the business stories.

So, there's this continuous struggle in media to deliver your audience -- deliver to your audience news. Is it new information? Is it relevant information? Is it a compelling story? And is it, you know, truth and knowledge? So it's never stable. It's always moving. And, and then there's different audiences for different types of information. So, our commercial side, or our retail side, is the Reason.com magazine side. However, we also produce more rigorous analysis that wouldn't get a wide audience, but it might get an audience of policy makers. So our policy expert on criminal justice reform was invited in to Mississippi to testify to their committee on criminal justice reform on sentencing. And at that point, the audience gets very small, and it's actually this group of six people who are going to be deciding what their policy recommendations are in the entire state. So there's different layers in which you're marketing, and it's all -- you're always selling to the best, either the biggest or most leveraged audience, you can find.

SHANGO LOS: In my experience, the new cannabis media companies are nimble, and if they exist in a state that has already legalized, we are tending to break a lot of the stories first. A lot of the national news sources aren't necessarily based in the cannabis scene, and so if something is going to break in Colorado or Washington, and their journalists may or may not actually be stationed there, they're going to, you know, it takes a little longer for the story to get to them. One of the stories that we broke here was when the new recreational market started testing positive for pesticides. And, you know, we broke that story at Ganjapreneur, and we were, you know, by the end of the day, getting calls from national media, you know, to talk about it and get our primary sources and things like that, which we happily shared.

DOUG MCVAY: That was recorded last month at Seattle Hempfest, a panel on cannabis and the media at the Hemposium Stage. The panel moderator was Doctor Dominic Corva with the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. The other panelists were Susan Squibb, the Cannabis Maven; Shango Los from Ganjapreneur; David Nott from Reason Foundation; and yours truly.

More than a hundred thousand people braved the heat to attend this massive protestival. Hope to see you there next year. For now, that's all the time we have today. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.