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A GROWING PORTFOLIO
Ricardo Baca on the evolution of marijuana media.
By Thomas NitcheU
The cannabis industry has no shortage of entrepreneurs fighting to gain a toehold in the field, but one of the industryâ€™s most well-known names got there almost by accident. Ricardo Baca had been covering music for the Denver Post for over a decade when Colorado legalized the plant recreationally, and he was a bit befuddled when his bosses asked him to lead what would become the Cannabist, the first cannabis vertical for a major daily newspaper.
After talking with his mother and wife, though, Baca eventually took the job, be-comingthe editor-in-chiefofthe Cannabist and, in the process, a go-to expert for national media oudets. He still has that role after leaving the Post at the end of 2016 to start Grasslands, a full-service agency for cannabis businesses. Baca writes about pot for such media outlets as Esquire and the Daily Beast, and when United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memorandum in January, Baca was a natural to talk about the move on MSNBC.
We recently caught up with Baca to talk about his transition from reporter to potrepreneur, keeping one foot in the journalism world while he runs a cannabis business, and recent moves at the Post, including killingthe Cannabist Show podcast.
Westword: Youâ€™ve been vocal about your lack of cannabis use and knowledge before you started writing about it. How did being a journalist speed up that education?
Ricardo Baca: It was everything for me, because I wasnâ€™t really following along
on this subject before November 2013, when I got the call. That next day, when I met with the number two at the Post, Kevin Dale, I told him straight up that I wasnâ€™t the biggest aficionado in the newsroom. He agreed and said that was part of the reason: I was a little more detached.
But they all thought I was a lot more experienced than I was [laughs], just because Iâ€™d been writing about music for thirteen years. Being thrust into that position, youâ€™re expected to know this kind of stuff not only by your bosses and your readers, but then suddenly youâ€™re beinginterviewed by Anderson Cooper or George Stephanopoulos, and youâ€™re demanded to know your shit I was terrified about lookinglike an asshole over complex questions aboutstatistics, numbers, certain local tax percentages in an era before a lot of the sales had even started in Colorado.
I acknowledged what I didnâ€™t know, but I would also bring these little sheets of paper and pack it with statistics. I remember sitting and waiting for these interviews with MSNBC, NPR, and going over statistics to make sure I got these things right. It fast-tracked my trip to becoming a subject-matter expert.
You wrote about music for thirteen years at the Post and have acknowledged it as a large reason for becoming a reporter. Whatâ€™s it like to become more well known for cannabis, something you didnâ€™t even consider writing about five years ago?
I know, right? I think it speaks to the unusual natureoftheposition. There areamil-lion music critics, especially in the blog era But there was only one weed editor after I made the switch, and that was a lot more interesting for people to talk about â€” and Iâ€™m okay with it Itâ€™s funny that Iâ€™ve devoted so much of my professional and personal life to what was happening in the Colorado
and Denver music scenes for a dozen-plus years, but thatâ€™s certainly not what people are associating me with anymore.
Iâ€™m really proud of the way we covered the local music community, though. In fact, we covered the local music scene so much that people always mistook me for a Westword reporter, because we threw a music festival that was primarily local and we wrote about locals. They never thought a daily newspaper would be crazy enough to allow a full-timer to do that, so kudos to the Post â€” and kudos to West-word for digging into those local-music beats and actually making them beats long before any dailies were doing that.
Both prohibitionists and advocates can use questionable information to support their beliefs, and cannabis-related studies are few and far between. How did you approach covering this hot-button issue objectively with such a small amount of verifiable information out there?
I tried to give each side their voice, and I also had to recognize that you just canâ€™t fact-check everybody in the context of a single story. Itâ€™s just impossible unless you have the resources ofthe New YorkTimes, which is making an continued on page 10
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(f | The Chronicle February 2018