Cannabis-centric media was once the only living record of an underground counterculture with a point of view largely excluded from mainstream narratives. It was an act of rebellion to write about cannabis and legalization, more so using a legal given name in the byline. This coverage pushed the envelope, and it changed minds. But today, writing about cannabis is most often an act of conformity, in popping out short advertorial SEO-edited clickbait generated by AI that has regurgitated already-regurgitated marketing copy passed off as “education.” It’s no big loss really, but endemic of a much more serious problem.
Despite all its flaws, the independent cannabis media shifted public sentiment on many important issues ignored in mainstream media, to name a few:
- The efficiencies of indoor agriculture.
- The necessity of regenerative farming
- The role of cannabis, herbalism, and diet in fighting cancer, chronic illness, and inflammation.
- The ongoing failure of the War on Drugs.
- The inequities in the judicial system and the prejudices at the heart of anti-drug laws.
- The existence of the endocannabinoid system, which, if studied with the thoroughness it deserves, would lead to a logical conclusion of restructuring the entire healthcare industrial complex.
A Brief Eulogy
First, there was High Times Magazine, a cultural beacon of the print era (1970s). High Times gave a voice to a growing cultural movement that overlapped with civil rights, women’s rights, and anti-war movements. It was cool, fresh, and different, reflecting a burgeoning cultural movement a couple of decades from reaching critical mass. This mattered because those writers covered the movement from the inside rather than the mainstream media that could not understand its nuances.
Then came the hybrid-print digital 2.0’s like Cannabis Culture, based in Canada, that rode the cultural wave straight to the bank through independent media paid for by selling seeds over the border into the US. The seeds pushed out the magazines, and the magazines pushed out a critical source of information in the Prohibition era. A key byproduct of the dissemination of media backed by seed sales was the uprising of a massive underground production economy that inspired the medical access movement.
Legal medical access opened a critical bridge from the underground culture to the world at large, just as the commercial industry was emerging. The Obama-era Green Rush spawned a steady stream of viral blog sites straight from the culture itself that captured the narrative in a critical way at a critical time. I worked on such a site, Ladybud Magazine, which, although short-lived, generated repeated virality and fed the mainstream media a narrative about cannabis that was new to them: women in cannabis. What we published spawned national coverage on The View, ABC, and Huffington Post. But as the movement transformed into an industry, these grassroots cannabis media 3.0 blogs and forums opened the door for the now multi-billion dollar global industry, which shut it behind them.
From the 1.0s to the 3.0s, they all served their purpose, cannabis is (mostly) legal (whether we like it or not), and although these zombies may still publish or crawl social media, they are still unequivocally dead.
Legalization killed the cannabis media.
Legalization thrust cannabis coverage into the mainstream at a time when alternative and independent media were already taking their last breaths. The alternative nature of the coverage bought it a few good golden years beyond most other independent and local media outlets before it assimilated into the mainstream and died.
What happened to the cannabis media is what happened to every beacon of popular culture before it: the underground-yet-influential niche became trendy, overexposed, picked apart, and left for dead. Cannabis media is no longer about sowing the seeds of rebellion but hyping mids and selling overpriced hemp tinctures, vape pens, and CBD pillows for multinational corporations. It is a wasteland of influencers, “experts,” “pioneers,” and self-styled cultural “icons.”
A lot of the best of the cannabis media was its ability to educate about larger societal issues through the lens of something many people love and need. The nature of it being an alternative niche allowed it to thrive through a greater number of smaller funders (like small growers buying seeds). With legalization came legal capital that came from a lot fewer and far less altruistic sources. The legal money wasn’t spent or reinvested locally or used to fund advocacy, it was used to carve out cartel markets and consolidate power and ownership into a few hands.
You might not care, but you should.
Let its death speak to the larger lesson about the ills of unchecked crony capitalism and corporate consolidation, particularly of the democratizing force of publishing true reporting and spotlighting alternative points of view. Cannabis media didn’t die in a vacuum; it has been buried alongside most other local and independent media outlets. It died for the same reasons most other local and independent media is dead: a shifting profit model brought about by technology and consolidation. Once cannabis was legalized it became just as vulnerable as any other publication.
For example, we are today experiencing the cultural and societal effects of what happens when there is no longer a dedicated reporter covering a small town city council in favor of 24-hour news networks filled with advertorial sales segments, pharmaceutical ads, and talking heads arguing about intangible culture wars. What really matters gets lost (in this case, democracy) for what really sells (war and legal drugs).
We don’t need cannabis media because the cannabis industry has replaced the small-yet-influential cannabis community. We absolutely need independent, local, and small media with transparent standards and a lot more of it. We need reporters who are specialized in the issues that face small communities and cultures. If only someone would pay for it. Buy me a coffee. (LOL)