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Bad Cannabis Headlines Dangerously Misinform Readers

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Marijuana laws are changing rapidly these days, so much so that even specialized news organizations solely dedicated to tracking cannabis policy sometimes have a hard time making sense of reforms.

Coverage this week by The Cannabist and Marijuana Business Daily provides a perfect example.

After California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed legislation that would have enacted new crimes prohibiting smoking or vaping tobacco and other substances on state coastal beaches and in state parks, the two news organizations reported the news with inaccurate headlines that could influence some readers to unknowingly break the law.

“California governor OKs marijuana use at beaches, state parks,” Marijuana Business Daily reported.

“Californians can smoke and vape weed in parks, on beaches, decides gov,” read The Cannabist’s headline of an Associated Press story.

While the reach of the legislation Brown vetoed did extend to cannabis as well as tobacco (“lighted or heated tobacco or plant product intended for inhalation, whether natural or synthetic, in any manner or in any form”), the fact is that public marijuana consumption is not currently permitted in California.

Brown’s veto of the proposed bills does not change that.

California marijuana policy experts say that the false headlines in Marijuana Business Daily and in The Cannabist, which is owned by The Denver Post, could have dangerous consequences.

“The harm is that people will smoke or ingest cannabis in state beaches and parks, thinking that the governor gave the go-ahead to such public ingestions by vetoing those proposed bills,” Omar Figueroa, an attorney who handles cannabis cases, told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “Mistake of law is no defense.”

Brown, who vetoed similar legislation last year, said in a statement that the proposals were too broad. “If people can’t smoke on a deserted beach, where can they? There must be some limit to the coercive power of government.”

As it stands, with his veto, people can still smoke or vaporize tobacco on those shorefronts, subject to individual beach policies and local codes. But as was the case before, and despite the inaccurate headlines in some outlets, they still can’t consume cannabis there.

That said, marijuana reform advocates were nonetheless relieved that Brown vetoed the bills.

“If smoking were banned on beaches statewide, we would likely see increased enforcement, which would result in more cannabis consumers, including medical patients, cited for public consumption,” Ellen Komp of California NORML told Marijuana Moment.

Dale Gieringer, also of California NORML, agreed that the legislation would’ve put marijuana consumers at greater risk. “By flagging all smoking (and vaporization) as illegal, it would have increased the likelihood of citation for [cannabis] users, who can otherwise avoid detection by discreetly acting like tobacco smokers,” he said, adding that the fines they could face would also have increased.

Alex Pasquariello, editor of The Cannabist, declined to comment for this story, citing the fact that the organization’s post consisted of an Associated Press story. He did not reply to a follow-up question specifically about the headline his organization chose for the story or its image caption reading, “Californians will be allowed to smoke weed on beaches, due to a veto by Governor Jerry Brown of a bill that would have banned the behavior.”

Chris Walsh, the vice president for editorial & strategic development at Marijuana Business Daily, also said that his organization’s story was largely comprised of Associated Press content. But he did acknowledge that his team erred in framing the story.

“Our editorial team has taken another look at it and we agree that the headline and brief need to be reframed and clarified,” he said. “The piece itself was mostly from the Associated Press, but we are looking into it now to get some additional information so we can clarify as needed. We realize now that the headline could be interpreted differently than intended and we will modify accordingly.

This story was updated to include reaction from Marijuana Business Daily and California NORML.

Business

REI Exec Discussed Entering Marijuana Industry, But Company Wants No Part Of It

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High-level staff at outdoor recreational outfitter REI have internally discussed entering the marijuana industry, but amid ongoing uncertainty on the federal level, the company is not seriously considering such a move.

“We’ve talked about this at REI, because it makes a lot of sense,” Elizabeth Dowd, REI’s divisional vice president for retail experience, said on Saturday at a trade show in California.

“But [with] the current state of things in the world and the current political administration,” she added,” there’s no way in hell that we would go near it really, at this point. Until we feel like we’ve actually progressed beyond 50 years ago and we’re not going to get a huge amount of backlash we wouldn’t even entertain the idea.”

See the video of Dowd’s remarks here:

After this story was originally published, REI Director of Communications & Public Affairs Rob Discher reached out to play down Dowd’s comments.

“There’s a distinction between a water cooler conversation that she may have had with one of her peers or a friend at work and a legitimate strategy discussion,” he said, adding that the latter has not happened.

Marijuana is now legal for adult use under the laws of eight states and the District of Columbia. And 29 states and D.C. have comprehensive medical cannabis policies.

Yet ongoing federal prohibition makes banks and most mainstream corporations reluctant to directly or even tangentially work with the cannabis industry. That’s especially true as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has publicly weighed rescinding Obama-era guidance that generally respects the right of states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

So it is quite remarkable that a high-level staffer for REI, one of the nation’s most prominent retailers, would openly discuss internal deliberations about the marijuana market, even if vaguely.

Dowd’s comments came during a panel discussion about consumer behavior at last weekend’s Outpost trade show held amidst Northern California’s redwood trees.

It remains unclear to what extent Dowd and other REI staffers seriously weighed an entry into the marijuana industry, and whether its potential involvement would’ve amounted to distributing the drug directly through any of its 154 retail locations — the company is based in Washington State, where recreational marijuana has been legalized — or if it would simply have entailed partnering with existing cannabis businesses on co-branded marketing campaigns that wouldn’t involve the sporting goods company actually touching the plant.

David Hua, CEO of marijuana delivery service Meadow, also spoke on the Outpost panel with REI’s Dowd.

“I think the environment that we’re in right now, it’s touchy. With the federal government, with banking, there’s just a lot of stuff,” he said. “Cannabis is still, it’s growing and it will become pretty large. I don’t see a lot of these bigger brands taking a risk on it.”

But Hua did indicate that those companies who moved first would stand to benefit.

“I think, get on early is a good idea,” he said.

This story was first published by Forbes.

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