On January 1st, Colorado will be the first state to allow recreational marijuana use. To cover the story The Denver Post has hired a full-time pot editor to run a dedicated pot page. Ricardo Baca is his name and despite being a longtime, experienced journalist, he's spent the last few weeks enduring joke after joke about his new position. Bob talks with Baca about the new gig and all the jokes.
BOB GARFIELD: On January 1st, Colorado will be the first state to allow recreational marijuana use. Quantities will be limited, underage use will be forbidden, but demand is expected to be [LAUGHS] high. A 25 percent tax is projected to yield $70 million for the state, with $40 million earmarked for schools. The editor of the Denver Post called legalization “the number one story of the year. To that end, the paper has launched a pot page on its site and hired a full time editor for it. Included on the site this week, articles headlined, “Pocket hookahs proliferate with young marijuana users, sources say,” “Denver limits pot home growth to 12 plants, no front yard smoke ban,” and, in a throwback to prohibition, “Woman’s Christian Temperance Union targeting pot.”
Ricardo Baca is the newly-appointed editor of the marijuana page and, even before the law goes into effect, he has become a human punch line.
[WEEKEND UPDATE CLIP]:
CECILY STRONG: The Denver Post this week announced that they’re looking for a marijuana editor their website. They have one; they’re looking for him.
BOB GARFIELD: So how does it feel to be the butt of the joke or, I guess I should say, the roach of the joke?
RICARDO BACA: You know, it makes sense. As soon as that leaked, that we were hiring this position, we knew it was gonna get picked up in some places, we just had no idea it was gonna be Jay Leno and then SNL a couple of days later.
BOB GARFIELD: So your boss says that pot will be the number one story of the year for the Denver Post. Really, the number one story?
RICARDO BACA: It’s definitely up there. Colorado is on the very front end of this, as you know, so we legalized recreational use of marijuana at the same time as Washington State did last November. But we’re the first people to implement it. So I know Washington State is looking and there’s lots of people who are very serious about what’s happening in Colorado at the very beginning of 2014.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about the thrust of your page. Will it be lifestyle coverage, business coverage? What do you predict will most preoccupy you?
RICARDO BACA: I think the focus of what we’re doing is culture. So we’re looking at the culture of cannabis. We’ll have our pot critic musing on different strains and edibles, different sodas that he or she finds interesting. We’ll have an advice columnist there answering all the serious questions and all the unserious questions. I’ve heard of all these groups where maybe it’s a group of suburban women hanging out in their backyards once a week where they just go to let loose and have a smoke. I want in on those parties. I want in on those storytelling opportunities.
BOB GARFIELD: If I were to walk in to the WNYC newsroom half-baked and reeking of cannabis, I would probably get fired really, really quickly. I’m sure the Denver Post has employee standards that are approximately like ours. Can you do your job under the influence and, and will you?
RICARDO BACA: I can’t and I won’t. We have the same standards as most major corporations. We all talked about this question of do you partake. We wanted to answer as accurately as possible, and so we have wanted to be honest with our readers about my preferences, since I’m going to be heading up a lot of this coverage.
BOB GARFIELD: How many applications have you had for the pot critic gig?
RICARDO BACA: You know, we got more than a hundred on that. I’ve narrowed it down to about seven or eight candidates. I told these seven or eight people that I want a single review. I assigned them a strain and told them what’s important to me. I want color, I want personality. I absolutely want that vernacular to speak to the occasional users, to the person who doesn’t know anything about marijuana and to the people who are entrenched in the community.
BOB GARFIELD: I hate asking questions like this but, nonetheless, I feel obliged. There’s been so much curiosity about your role, been interviewed many times. What has happened through all of this that is most memorable to you?
RICARDO BACA: [LAUGHS] Well, on, on the way, actually, on the way to the studio, I listened to two different Fox News clips that aired in the last 24 hours, and, and that was certainly interesting, hearing your paper’s name completely shredded by Bill O’Reilly. That’s something I’ll never forget.
BILL O’REILLY: …the Denver Post. They’re gonna tell you what the best bud is, where to buy it, how to prune it, how to roll it. This is promoting the use of an intoxicant by the Denver Post!
BOB GARFIELD: What’s been the best joke so far?
RICARDO BACA: Stephen Colbert asked me how I was hiring this pot critic position. And I just told him a little bit about it and asked him if he – if he knew anybody who was ready for such a job, and he said –
STEPHEN COLBERT: Yeah, yeah, I know a few people but I need them in my editing room.
BOB GARFIELD: At the risk of harshing your mellow, can you possibly meet the expectation that the various constituencies have for your coverage?
RICARDO BACA: No. And I think, you know, we want to make sure that we’re covering the marijuana community – the dispensaries, the legal retail pot shops, the people who are making vaporizers out in Boulder. But we also want to cover the people who are very against this issue, the communities who have banned dispensaries from their streets. I want to make sure that those communities know that we want to be there to cover their concerns, as well.
BOB GARFIELD: You say you have been a user. Does the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and others on the anti side of this question, do they think that you’re in the tank for the law and for pro-marijuana and that they can’t get a, a fair shake?
RICARDO BACA: I don’t know what they think. I think that’s what Bill O’Reilly thinks, given what he said this morning or last night, whenever that aired. Yeah, you know, but I’ve been invited on to CNN or NS – MSNBC to, to be on a panel discussion, and I’ve just told them very frankly, I’m not here to argue for or against it. That’s just not what we’re here to do.
BOB GARFIELD: Ricardo, thank you.
RICARDO BACA: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Ricardo Baca is the marijuana editor of the Denver Post.