Student Journalists Investigate Marijuana Legalization | Phoenix New Times


ASU's Cronkite School Releases Investigative Series on Marijuana Legalization

A team of 27 journalism students from the Carnegie-Knight News21 program at Arizona State University released a major investigative series on marijuana legalization this week that focuses on the many problems related to the evolving culture and legality of the plant. The students, ranging from 19 universities across the country...
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A team of 27 journalism students from the Carnegie-Knight News21 program at Arizona State University released a wide-ranging investigative series on marijuana this week that focuses on the evolving culture and legality of the plant.

The students, from 19 universities across the country and Canada, "traveled to more than 23 states and interviewed hundreds of individuals" for "America's Weed Rush," according to an ASU statement.

The student journalists talked to a variety of cannabis users, medical patients, cops, and prohibitionists from Alaska to the deep South to produce the multimedia series, which includes 10 videos and 11 databases containing search boxes, interactive maps, and other useful features.  

The story on the decline of medical marijuana in Montana is particularly interesting, as are the stories on minorities bearing the brunt of prohibitionist law enforcement, the question of administering marijuana to children with epilepsy, efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the South, working in the marijuana industry, and the challenges of determining whether drivers are impaired by marijuana. 

"Major media partners" are publishing the series, including the Washington Post and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Jacquee Petchel, News21 executive editor at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, supervised the project with award-winning journalists, including: Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of the Washington Post and Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism at ASU; Mike Reilley, director of the Cronkite News Digital Production Bureau; Christina Leonard, director of Cronkite’s Reynolds Business Reporting Bureau; and Brandon Quester, executive editor of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.

 "Marijuana legalization is probably closer to [the student journalists'] lives than other projects" because movements to decriminalize the drug are s so prevalent in America today, Petchel tells New Times, adding, however, that the faculty chose the topic.  

Twenty-seven students from 19 universities traveled to 23 states for the series.

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The effort resembles the series and documentary about heroin produced by ASU's Cronkite school, "Hooked," which was published online and aired by multiple TV stations in January. As ASU announced today, the heroin project just landed a prestigious award from the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Indeed, the new series resembles the heroin project, with its large focus on the supposed ills of legalization. Series headlines state that: medical-marijuana rules in some states don't work; registered caregivers are a bad idea because they may feed illegal markets; Colorado has an "imperfect marijuana model"; and Washington, D.C.'s legalization is causing problems.

Missing from the series, which is well balanced overall, are headlines on why people enjoy marijuana, the ongoing lies spouted by pot prohibitionists, the heavy personal costs to marijuana users of anti-cannabis law enforcement, and the rarity of drivers who have used marijuana causing serious traffic accidents.

Readers hear plenty from prohibitionist Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and from police.

The story on legalization in Colorado informs readers that legal marijuana now supplies just 54 percent of the state's marijuana demand.

But a few sentences later, a police officer who generally comes off as anti-legalization is quoted as saying, "If you really want to put a dent in the cartels, if you want to stop a lot of this diversion, here’s what has to happen: The federal laws on marijuana have to change and allow for legalization."

Arizona seems destined to have at least one cannabis-legalization measure on the ballot in November 2016. By supplying existing marijuana users with the plant legally, Arizona would reap as much as $48 million extra in tax revenue annually, according to a study by the state's Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

None of the students used marijuana — officially, anyway — for the investigative series, Petchel says: "We did not think it would be appropriate."
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