To mark the anniversary of recreational-marijuana stores opening in Washington, we look at The Seattle Times’ coverage of pot.
Cannabis made one of its first appearances in The Seattle Daily Times in 1911, in a recipe to cure corns. An extract of cannabis, along with sodium and collodion, would form a paste. Readers were instructed to “paint over the corn once or twice a day and scrape away superficial growth in three or four days.”
Later stories journeyed from a portrayal of marijuana as an illegal, dangerous drug used by dirty hippies to a legal drug purchased at a regulated store.
The corn remedy is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of mentions of marijuana, also referred to as pot, weed, mary jane, cannabis, reefer, that have appeared in The Seattle Times pages since 1900.
To mark Wednesday’s one-year anniversary of recreational-marijuana stores opening in the state, we took a look at our cannabis coverage over the past 100-plus years.
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A look back
Marijuana turned musicians in Chicago into “laugh addicts,” according to a 1928 account. A 1940 dispatch from New York recounted that “Harlem Negroes” had invented a new lexicon related to marijuana. Other stories recounted drugs coming in from Canada, China and the Middle East.
And oh, won’t someone think of the children?
Echoing films such as “Reefer Madness,” marijuana was often portrayed as a gateway drug to narcotics, debauchery and a life of crime. In 1953, The Seattle Times interviewed parents of teens arrested for stealing cars. The parents of one 13-year-old said their son “got in with a tough Queen Anne High School gang,” who would get marijuana, then steal cars “for the thrill of it.” A year later, a dealer was sentenced to 15 years in prison for selling dope to minors.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the drug became more associated with counterculture, with hippies wandering around in a “sea of mud, sickness and drugs,” as Woodstock was described in a 1969 story.
In 1981, The Seattle Times ran a 10-part series (yes, 10) called “Marijuana and Your Child.” There was a marijuana epidemic among America’s children, an Associated Press reporter wrote, that didn’t kill, but maimed.
“The media’s portrayal has, in some instances, contributed to accurate public knowledge and marijuana’s effects on behavior, how popular it was, who was using it,” said Roger Roffman, a University of Washington professor emeritus and author of “Marijuana Nation: One Man’s Chronicle of America Getting High.” “In other instances, the media pretty grossly contributed to stereotypical views of marijuana users and marijuana policy.”
Only recently have the mainstream media covered marijuana as something that might have value, Barcott said. One of the first Seattle Times stories about medical marijuana was published in 1975, when a drug expert testified at a Drug Enforcement Administration hearing.
And last year, The Seattle Times wrote about Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes buying two packages of marijuana, one for posterity and one, he said, for “personal enjoyment.” The reporters even noted what strain he bought: “OG’s Pearl.”
“It will be very interesting to see how that coverage changes,” Barcott said. “Not just year to year, but week to week, month to month. It’s such a fast-moving story.”