CONTACT Some days, it's best to ignore journalists - Dr. Christian Thurstone

Watching news coverage and commentary about marijuana is utterly painful for me on so many levels. We’re talking chronic pain that would easily qualify me for a medical-pot license in Colorado.

Take this week, when Reporter Will Ripley of Denver’s NBC affiliate, 9News, posted this story about data issued by the Denver Police Department. The lead is interesting and important for people to know: crime at or very near marijuana dispensaries in Denver has increased 69 percent over last year, according to police.

From there, the 9News story is a mess — which is a shame because, again, this is an important topic. The report states the  “spike in crime could be explained by an increase in the number of places that sell marijuana” and further notes that Denver alone has 400 establishments that do so. (Denver reportedly has more pot stores than the entire state of Colorado has Starbucks coffee shops, which ring in at 375.)

Makes sense. You open more of these sales outlets, and the number of crimes happening in that particular category of retail grows. But let’s be honest: this line of thinking doesn’t fully explain a 69 percent spike in crime at these venues.

Unfortunately, the 9News story doesn’t dig deeper. The story loses focus — and confuses retail establishments with home-grow marijuana producers, also known as “caregivers” in Colorado. The police department’s stats concern retail establishments and not caregivers like Richard Nack, who was found dead in his home on May 25, and mentioned prominently in the 9News report. To be frank, the reporter, Mr. Ripley, failed to make an important distinction — which might explain why the video is no longer accessible on the news organization’s website.

That confusion in the 9News story invited heated protests from drug-legalization champions, who were not only quick to trash the report, but to get in their jabs at the Denver Police Department — and “the government.”

Enter Michael Roberts, media critic for Westword — a weekly paper that prominently features plenty of marijuana ads in its print and online editions. His was a royally sympathetic ear to complaints about the 9News report. Mr. Roberts started and ended a column about the dispatch with references to its inaccuracy, even going so far in the last graph to invite readers to review the “so-called ‘surge in crime involving medical marijuana in Denver.'” Clearly, someone wasn’t in the mood to do reporting of his own — and was just happy to go with the phrase “so-called.” It’s easier that way.

Again, some criticism of the 9News report is in order — but take a look at Mr. Roberts’ work, and maybe you’ll start to feel my pain. He devotes half of his column to sniping about the work product of another news organization — and the other half allowing a drug-legalization advocate and lawyer named Brian Vicente to spout his views unchallenged.

Methinks pot is calling kettle black.

I mean really. You gotta love this gem in Mr. Roberts’ column. This is Vicente, according to Mr. Roberts:

“‘Our goal is to take sales of marijuana out of homes, out of communities and neighborhoods, and put them in regulated commercial districts, the same way other products are sold,’ Vicente says. ‘That’s what Amendment 64 would accomplish, and we think that would be a safer and more regulated model to adopt. You don’t see people breaking in and shooting folks to steal their home-brewed alcohol. It just doesn’t happen. So if we remove that criminal element, I really don’t think we’re going to see the kind of violence’ that, in this case, appears to have taken Nack’s life.”


Lemme get this straight: a guy growing pot in his home is murdered, so we should legalize marijuana for recreational use (that would be Amendment 64) because that would get “sales of marijuana out of homes, out of communities and neighborhoods, and put them in regulated commercial districts.”

You mean regulated commercial districts like the ones Colorado now has for the legal sale of “so-called” medical marijuana? (Two can play this game, Mr. Roberts.) The same regulated commercial properties where Denver Police are reporting dramatic spikes in crime?

OK, um, well, all righty then. Maybe you have to smoke pot to follow the logic.

Mr. Roberts’ column goes even further downhill from there. He dedicates the next half dozen consecutive paragraphs (painfully long paragraphs) to what looks more like a stenographer’s handiwork than a responsible media critic’s. Seriously, take a look at this for yourself. Mr. Vicente gets to claim aaaaall sorts of fanciful and inaccurate stuff about the wonders of marijuana absolutely unchallenged.

Get a load of some of this stuff Mr. Vicente says — again, according to Mr. Roberts:

“Looking back historically in Denver, voters have voted numerous times to lessen penalties for marijuana possession, and the police have really not respected those votes.”

Really? How have the police not respected those votes? And how would the police like to respond to that claim? In the interest of fairness, let’s ask them for comment, shall we?

“… Other numbers have shown that the presence of a regulated and licensed dispensary in a community actually makes that community safer. There are security guards, lights, tax revenues pouring in and people often working at buildings that used to be vacant. And all those things can really raise the value of a community.”

What are these “other numbers?” Where are they? Who produced them? And about these “tax revenues pouring in.” Do they cover the costs of problems associated with marijuana’s use? Call me crazy for asking about that.

“Linking marijuana with violence, or saying marijuana causes people to be violent, is a tactic we’ve seen since the Reefer Madness decade of the 1930s and beyond. And [Colorado Attorney General] John Suthers and other opponents of sensible marijuana reform are going to continue to use those tactics.”

Ah, yes, the Reefer Madness reference. I would’ve been disappointed if Mr. Roberts hadn’t found room to wiggle that into his column. Fact: marijuana use is associated with violence. Fact: marijuana use is associated with psychosis. Question: how much would you like to bet that Mr. Roberts allowed Mr. Vicente to take a swipe at Attorney General John Suthers by name without bothering to call Mr. Suthers’ office for perspective and reaction to include in his column?

“We’re trying to stress to voters the relative safety of marijuana as a recreational substance, and the fact that marijuana is already here, and we can only benefit as a society by moving it behind the counter.”

Really nice. “Relative safety of marijuana as a recreational substance,” eh? Never mind that marijuana addiction is the No. 1 reason why adolescents are admitted to substance-abuse treatment in the United States, Mr. Roberts.

Christine Tatum is a former staff writer for the Chicago Tribune and The Denver Post. She served as 2006-07 national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. And yes, she’s married to Dr. T. You can learn more about here here

About Christine Tatum

Christine Tatum is a veteran journalist whose communications and market intel firm, Media Salad, Inc., helps companies and nonprofit organizations win business and stay ahead of their competitors. Her professional stops include the Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, the (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald and the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record. Her work also has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.

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