Pubdate: Thu, 18 Aug 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Thadeus Greenson


The backlash came fast and fierce. "Get ready for some hate mail," 
warned one Facebook commenter about 30 minutes after the post went 
live. Within hours, the boycott calls began.

On Aug. 10, the Lost Coast Outpost posted to its news site the full 
list of marijuana growers and manufacturers who have taken steps to 
register their operations, future and existing, with the county. As 
of the Outpost's publication, there were 846 of these folks who had 
registered with the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department, 
putting pen to paper to officially report who they are, what they're 
planning, where they're planning it and what, if any, existing 
commercial marijuana activity is already there.

For an industry that's long operated in the shadows, fearful of 
prosecutions, forfeitures, rip-offs and lists, these 846 took a 
marked step into the light. But, as they knew - or at least should 
have known - those permit applications and registration lists are 
public documents, available to any cop, neighbor, speculator or 
reporter who walks in off the street to ask for them. Enter the 
Outpost, which posted to its website four county lists detailing 
those already permitted, those in the application process, those who 
asked the county for help preparing applications and those who have 
registered their scenes with the county.

In a Facebook post teasing its story, the Outpost urged its followers 
to "meet your friends and neighbors who are looking to get into the 
legal weed game," and, well, people freaked out. There were 
excoriations, f-bombs, plaintive pleas and threats.

In the documents, readers can access the names of land and business 
owners and brief descriptions of their marijuana cultivation and 
processing plans. LoCo redacted the most sensitive information - the 
parcel numbers and addresses for the operations - but seemed to do so 
somewhat reluctantly. "We're not sure why we're doing this, exactly. 
I suppose just because publishing 850-odd street addresses of active 
grow operations still feels too much like weird taboo juju," wrote 
LoCo editor Hank Sims in the post, going on to add that in addition 
to that bizarre journalistic logic, the fear of pot rip-offs is still 
pervasive and there's the "odd" chance those signing up didn't 
realize the information would be made public.

Sims declined to comment for this story but warns sternly in his 
post, "The reality is that this information is already out there, and 
not difficult to find."

Well, it's a whole lot easier to find now. And that's a problem in 
the eyes of many. Commenters on LoCo's site argued that while the 
average shithead with a gun might not know to go to Planning and 
Building to pull public records to see who might be an easy robbery 
target, he or she might happily follow the home invasion road map 
LoCo provided to anyone with an Internet connection.

In LoCo's defense, there is clearly a lot of newsworthy information 
in these lists. They are loaded with prominent names and begin to 
answer some of Humboldt's biggest and longest held pot economy 
questions (who, how much, where). Could LoCo have reported the 
newsworthy tidbits - the public figures and general trends - while 
protecting the identities of the other 800 or so operations, those 
who make up the roughly 20 percent of Humboldt County's marijuana 
industry that is trying to take a bold step into the world of 
regulated legitimacy?

California's marijuana industry is changing at breakneck speed. 
Growers, cops and regulators are all being forced to adapt. 
Journalists must do the same. After all, new paradigms come with new rules.

But I've always been told it's not so much what you do as how you do 
it. Would LoCo's posting the lists have been taken differently had 
the news site reported the hell out of the documents, analyzing the 
prominent people, political relationships, business models and trends 
they unearthed within? Would it have helped if the site used a 
slightly less small-town, voyeuristic teaser on Facebook?

Did LoCo pull a "dick move," as one commenter alleged, or just a 
journalist move in a decidedly dicky way?

Really, though, there's a bigger question at play here; bigger than 
LoCo and, yes, bigger even than weed. How do we as journalists make 
sure that - especially as we cover this shadowy industry coming into 
the light - we report the news in a way that's honest and direct, but 
also one that thoughtfully balances the public's thirst and need for 
knowledge with a modicum of discretion and decency?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom