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Last Word – Why Does National Media Miss the Real News on Legalizing Marijuana?

Here’s a headline I loved this week, courtesy of USA Today: A Year Later, No Refer Madness in Colorado

Yes, you know we’re in a weird media age when what DOESN’T happen is big news according to one of America’s largest national newspapers.

I’m not sure exactly what USA Today expected would take place after Colorado’s legalization law kicked in, but as the newspaper’s Rocky Mountain correspondent put it:

Legalizing pot doesn’t seem to have ended Western civilization as we know it, bolstering critics who say marijuana should never have been demonized by America’s War on Drugs.

We the people chose to legalize pot. It wasn’t a decision foisted upon us by a federal court or a mandate from some far-off government bureaucrat. The voters wanted the law changed to reflect reality — the reality that lots of people already were using marijuana safely and responsibly.”

Isn’t there any REAL cannabis news out there?

In other words, Colorado is a prime example for how smoothly cannabis legalization can go, and a great model for other states that are thinking about possibly going that way.

So, no news is REAL news if you get your news from USA Today, and I guess one should expect no less from a newspaper that puts a reporter’s byline on a three paragraph story. Overdoing it is what they do, as they show with this story about how the post-legalization sky isn’t falling in Colorado.

But, that begs the question: Aren’t there other REAL news stories about marijuana happening in the Centennial State? There are, but you’ll need to go to more local sources to get them — like The Denver Post.

Just this past Sunday, The Post published an interview with Colorado Republican congressman Scott Tipton, and he said two things that are much more newsworthy than another “the sky is not falling” story.

He said:

  • That “despite repeated calls for Congress to address federal rules that restrict banks from openly working with the marijuana industry,” he sees little resolve in Washington, D.C., to take on the issue and work to open up the banking system to the Cannabis Industry; and,
  • That it’s also unlikely the Federal Reserve “will act anytime soon on marijuana-only Fourth Corner Credit Union’s request for direct access to the nation’s banking system.”


Banking issues should be the media’s focus

Congressman Tipton should know of what he speaks. He’s a member of the House Committee on Financial Services, and of course, intimately involved in the politics of cannabis as a member of Congress from Colorado. As The Post story noted:

Supporters of federal legislation to give financial institutions a green light to deal with marijuana business — the U.S. Department of Justice has offered guidelines on how the relationship should work but not assurances it wouldn’t prosecute — say momentum is on their side as more states legalize the drug.

Tipton said some bankers have privately told him they’d like to be able to work with the businesses that legally grow and sell marijuana in Colorado, but federal laws still make the relationship akin to money laundering.

While Tipton said he’s aware of the challenges marijuana businesses face in acquiring and holding onto bank accounts “and the need for a solution,” one doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.”

There are others who don’t agree with Congressman Tipson’s pessimistic view, such Colorado’s Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat, who feels that support to open banking’s doors to the Cannabis Industry is growing. He told The Post:

There is no doubt we need to bridge the gap between state and federal law in order to reflect the reality of the situation in more than half the states across the country. I remain confident we will be able to align the federal and state laws on the banking front.”

Ed Perlmutter

Let’s ditch the “no refer madness” stories

These two congressmen from Colorado reflect the very real and conflicting views on when (or if) the Feds will finally focus on serious issues, like banking and tax law, that truly impede marijuana legalization.

This is where the rubber meets the road, and what the national media should really be focusing on when it comes to marijuana legalization.

It seems to me, as a long-time member of the media, that the problem with the national coverage of the cannabis boom is that too much of it is about non-stories like “no refer madness” in Colorado, instead of on the larger and more difficult struggle to get the banking laws changed.

That’s where the real story is, but banking and tax policy isn’t very sexy and is slow-moving to boot. And, big media is lazy and easily distracted. It’s easier to write about a lack of “refer madness” than the ins and outs of federal tax laws and drug schedules.

Big media organizations don’t seem to get it. Although they’re fascinated about the growing legal cannabis movement, they don’t have a lot of want to dig into it too deeply.

You’ll know that we’re getting close to real change when they do.

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