Pubdate: Fri, 28 Aug 2015
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2015 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Emi Sasagawa and Kelcie Johnson, NEWS21
Note: Sixth in a series.
Series: America's Weed Rush an Investigation into the Legalization of Marijuana


DALY CITY, Calif. - The smell of cannabis impregnated the air. 
Hundreds of people crowded around a makeshift stage, where men in 
head-to-toe marijuana print threw cannabis caviar, joints, and dollar 
bills at onlookers.

"Best weekend ever!" screamed a man dressed in a joint costume.

Organizers said more than 16,000 people attended the Nor-Cal Cannabis 
Cup here in June. Inside a fenced-in area in the parking lot of the 
Cow Palace, people smoked out of three-foot bongs, tried 
rainbow-color vape pens, and tasted cannabisinfused gourmet ice 
cream, all out in the open. Those without a medical marijuana card 
waited in line for hours for a two-minute consultation with a doctor, 
who charged $100 for a three-month medical marijuana recommendation.

Ten years ago, a large scale cannabis event like this would have been 
improbable. But the two-day trade show was one of dozens of 
marijuana-focused events nationwide this year. As more states 
legalize marijuana, the more it becomes a part of American mainstream culture.

Public opinion around it in the United States has shifted in the last 
decade. In 2010, 41 percent of Americans supported legalization, 
according to a Pew Research Center report. By 2015, 53 percent favored it.

Experts said several factors have shaped this transformation. Media 
coverage of marijuana has increased exponentially, and the message 
has become more favorable. There are more cannabis-related products 
and professions than ever. With greater financial backing, advocates 
have grown more sophisticated and organized.

"In late ' 80s and early ' 90s, the marijuana culture was at a point 
where there was no place left to retreat," said Chris Conrad, a 
professor at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., the first 
American institution devoted to training for the cannabis industry. 
"We were on the verge of extinction.

"We fought back by incorporating ourselves further and further into 
the mainstream," he said, "but the further we get into the 
mainstream, the more the original culture gets lost and it gets 
replaced by a culture which just sees marijuana as another part of 
the many different things they do."

Changes to media, message

Richard Jergenson has collected cannabis-related media for 45 years. 
A resident of Mendocino County, Calif., Jergenson has everything from 
Life magazine's 1969 marijuana edition to the National Organization 
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' first 1986 Common Sense pamphlet 
that challenged prohibition. "Reading these things is like a time 
machine," he said.

Throughout his life, he's watched the culture transition from hippies 
stapling fliers to telephone poles to marijuana appearing on the 
cover of prominent magazines like National Geographic and hundreds of 
social-media sites.

In the 1930s, the federal government launched a propaganda campaign 
and funded films that linked marijuana with sex, suicide, and murder. 
By the 1960s and 1970s, American counterculture was in full swing. 
The demonization of marijuana came into question at a national level. 
Marijuana activists developed niche magazines like High Times and Hi 
Life to cover marijuana.

But most Americans still thought pot should be illegal. In the 1980s, 
the federal government filled the airwaves with the "Just Say No" 
campaign that featured ads like "This is your brain on drugs."

Thirty years ago, a handful of major television networks and 
newspapers dominated the message. But in today's world, the public 
has new ways to access news and information - and gives advocates 
have a stronger voice.

Coral Reefer, a 26-year-old blogger in Oakland, Calif., who uses a 
pseudonym, has roughly 41,000 followers on Twitter, 693,000 likes on 
Facebook, and 98,000 YouTube subscribers.

Each week, she hosts "Stoney Sunday," a video show where she lights a 
bong and talks about new glass artists, reviews marijuana products, 
and answers questions.

Companies like Harborside Health Center in Oakland, a leading medical 
marijuana dispensary in the country, and Vape World, an online 
vaporizer shop based in Florida, send her products to give her 
followers. The cannabis community listens to bloggers like her.

"This is peer-to-peer advertising," said Patricia Cavazos-Rehg, an 
assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of 
Medicine who has studied Twitter talk around marijuana. "It is kind 
of promoting a behavior, marketing a behavior, and when that 
promotion is coming from peers, the potential influence would 
seemingly be even stronger than if it was an explicit advertisement 
because the promoters are individuals that young people can identify with."

Her study concluded that the Twitter discussion on cannabis was 
overwhelmingly favorable. Cavazos-Rehg said she is concerned 
pro-marijuana content will negatively impact young people. She would 
like to see balance in the online conversation and more public health 

Some social platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, have taken a 
hard line on people who create cannabis profiles because marijuana is 
still federally illegal. But independent developers have stepped in 
with websites and applications like Leafly, Weedmaps, High There! and 

The number of cannabis-focused publications also has soared, with 
platforms like Hail Mary Jane and the Weed Blog joining long-standing 
outlets like High Times magazine.

Mainstream media have jumped in as well, amping up coverage and 
reporting on marijuana issues in a more favorable light. In 2013, the 
Denver Post created a "marijuana editor" post to oversee coverage as 
Colorado became ground zero for legalization. CNN and CNBC have 
produced series specific to cannabis. And the Discovery Channel hosts 
Weed Country, a television series exploring the relationship between 
marijuana growers and law enforcement in California.

Growth of advocacy groups

Dennis Peron devoted his life to legalizing medical marijuana after 
he said he lost hundreds of friends to the AIDS epidemic. "Most of my 
life has been war," he said. He returned home from the Vietnam War 
"to a bigger war: the war on drugs. Where I've been a prisoner many 
times over."

In the early 1990s, Peron started the Cannabis Buyers' Club, the 
largest of its kind in the nation. Activists like Chris Conrad and 
the founder of NORML drafted California's Proposition 215, which 
legalized medical marijuana.

Peron and his network of California supporters hit the streets to 
gather about 600,000 signatures to put Proposition 215 on the ballot. 
They collected roughly 175,000.

A few months before the deadline, a number of wealthy investors 
funded the collection of the remaining signatures.

Today, groups like Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, and the Drug 
Policy Alliance work to change state laws by keeping a constant 
presence in media, offering tools for people to participate, and 
tailoring messages for each state. But they don't necessarily have 
the same vibe as in years past.

At the Nor-Cal Cannabis Cup, organizers had sectioned off some booths 
for advocacy groups. People walked past, ignoring petition requests 
and campaign buttons.

Instead, they flocked to the booths offering free bong hits, $100 
medical recommendations and that main stage - where the crowd grabbed 
at that cannabis caviar, joints, and dollar bills.


About this Series

This report is part of the project titled "America's Weed Rush," an 
investigation into the legalization of marijuana. It was produced by 
the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative 
reporting project involving top college journalism students across 
the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of 
Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For 
the complete project, including additional stories, videos and 
interactive elements, visit
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom