In 2016 alone, Colorado sold a whopping $1.3 billion of weed, up from $996 million in 2015 and $699 million the year before. It’s no surprise that the weed-boom is leading academic outlets to branch out into teaching about the marijuana market. The University of Denver has wised up to the blossoming marijuana magazine market and is now offering students a course on following their heady bliss to write about weed.
Unlike places like Oaksterdam, the University of Vermont, and Ohio State, which teach people how to become directly involved in the industry as growers, lab technicians, or prescribing doctors, DU’s course focuses entirely on offering students the historical, legal, and practical background to pursue “Cannabis Journalism.”
The course uses Leafly Deputy Editor and ex-weed aficionado Bruce Barcott’s 2015 book “Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America” as a foundational text. Barcott started writing the book during Washington state’s 2012 rollout of recreational legalization, seemingly reticent at first to sing the event’s praises. But regardless of his initial stance, Barcott is now firmly onboard—at least when it comes to exploring the rumors and realities of marijuana and its individual and societal effects. In addition to Barcott’s book, students are also expected to use Denver Post’s own Cannabist blog to monitor local policy and culture.
Assistant Professor in the Media, Film, and Journalism Studies department Andrew Matranga teaches the cannabis writing class—the first in the country, he says—to students who are interested in becoming part of a rapidly growing journalistic beat. Along with teaching about the history of bud and the legislative challenges posed under the thumb of the DOJ and DEA, the class aims to give students practical exposure to marijuana writing the way that any other journalism class would. Students develop their own data and work on multimedia projects that try and take a look at different states’ prohibition or medical and recreational markets. As with any practical journalism class, they do exactly the sort of work that an employed cannabis writer would: put together a portfolio by going out into the field to cover dispensaries along with citizen and professional opinions.
As with any practical journalism class, they do exactly the sort of work that an employed cannabis writer would: get to know the product by smoking it, embedding in the field to understand the issues, and interviewing citizens and experts to develop stories.
This sort of class is nothing short of a dream for people who are looking to combine their passion for cannabis and their passion for the written word. It simply goes to show how far the fight for recreational and medical legalization has come in the nearly 30 years since its Californian beginnings. The University of Denver is doing more than just letting students capitalize on their passions, it’s legitimizing a job title, and along with it the material covered by pot journalists everywhere. No longer are cannabis journalists restricted to writing about potheads and stereotypical stoner subjects. Features on weed-smoking bikini-clad babes are dead. As a new breed of writers rises up, so do the expectations for how the industry should act.