One of the most influential people in the world of legal weed, Ricardo Baca, has left his pioneering job at The Denver Post for a new gig. We caught up with him to ask about the status of pot in America.
He sat between Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on “The View,” parried with Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central, and declined Bill O’Reilly’s repeated offers to appear on his show.
As the first mainstream newspaper editor in the U.S. dedicated to covering legal weed, Ricardo Baca blazed a trail few of us could have imagined a few years ago.
He led The Denver Post’s creation of The Cannabist, a digital publication focused on all things weed. The Cannabist staff grew from two to seven people last year, it got more page views than High Times, and made enough money to support itself while adding — modestly, Baca said — to The Post’s bottom line.
The Cannabist also was the subject of a documentary film, “Rolling Papers.” Fortune magazine ranked Baca as one of the seven most powerful people in American cannabis, and the Brookings Institution said he’s one of 12 people to watch on marijuana policy.
Baca announced last month he was leaving The Cannabist to take a position at a technology startup in Denver.
“Once we launch in several months we will be servicing marijuana businesses all over the world,” he told The Seattle Times. Until then Baca is not disclosing more about the name of the company, who he’s working with and what they’re doing.
We talked with Baca about his pioneering gig.
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Q: Voters in Washington and Colorado approved legal weed at the same time, in the November 2012 election. What’s the different about the two states and weed?
A: The biggest difference is implementation time and you guys taking five-plus months more and what it meant for rollout and coverage. (Colorado began legal sales in January 2014; Washington started in July 2014.) For those five-plus months there was only Colorado … Before you guys ever came on line, I was writing front-page stories and taping the documentary that turned out to be “Rolling Papers.”
There’s a minor difference in shopping. Everything is prepackaged in Washington, while Colorado is still an open-jar experience (with customers selecting buds from big glass jars). It’s also worth noting on the cultivation side we allow six to 12 plants per household and we only have one county that allows outdoor cultivation.
Q: Any predictions for Washington consumers?
A: We are entering the time where regulators have had opportunities to tweak and tickle the rules in place. I think now we can start tackling some of the smaller problems like home-growing. I think it’s a shame that individuals in Washington can’t grow at home, given all we know about this substance and that it is safer and less deadly than other substances including nicotine and alcohol. It’s hypocritical, ridiculous and shortsighted. I also think social use or public consumption needs to be addressed … The places to legally consume weed you’re legally buying is infinitesimal … It’s hypocritical to allow tourists to buy and then don’t give them any opportunity to consume that substance.
Q: When do you think pot will be legalized nationally?
A: I think 10 years is a good number. Here we are four years into this experiment … granted it’s only the tip of the iceberg, but we finally have this data disproving so many fears and propaganda. Once we have more robust data I don’t see how people can keep this substance prohibited. I think in 10 years we’ll see some form of federal legalization because it allows some interstate commerce. We’ll just have everything grown (outdoors) in Northern California and they can supply the rest of the country … It’s going to make a lot more sense. I believe 1 percent of Colorado’s overall energy use is by indoor cannabis growers using massive amounts of energy. Just like avocados and almonds, most of our cannabis should be grown in California and trucked to us.
Q: Isn’t it sad that pioneers in our states could get left by the wayside?
A: There’s a lot of potential for sadness. Eventually federal legalization is going to happen and if you’re not the best of the best in Colorado and Washington, you’re probably not going to have your business for much longer.
Q: What does Donald Trump mean for legal weed?
A: I’m one of the voices that doesn’t believe Trump means the end of the legal marijuana experiment. He has been very clear he’s pro-states’ rights. (Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general) Jeff Sessions had mixed messages in his Senate confirmation hearings (this week). Given all their other priorities, I can’t imagine where that leaves them time for legalization. They can read polls from the nation’s most legitimate pollsters saying the nation as a whole wants legalization. The last election was such a definitive win, with eight of nine states voting for legalization (of recreational or medical marijuana). Are you really going to go after weed when medical marijuana is now legal in Arkansas? I think it’s past the tipping point.
Q: Your favorite interview?
A: After 15 years of requesting interviews with Willie Nelson (Baca was previously a music critic) I got an hour on the tour bus with Willie in San Diego … I ended up with such a spectacular experience at a table opposite him in the Honeysuckle Rose. I told him, ‘I love your music but I want to spend all my time talking about cannabis.’ He said, ‘All right, go for it.’ I appreciated hearing him talk about his first experience with the plant. He had a booze problem and he smoked too much and was playing rough-and-tumble roadhouses around Fort Worth when he found cannabis was a substance that didn’t make him crazy or put him in compromising positions that getting hammered on alcohol does. It was a compelling story and it was also my story. Once I did discover cannabis four or five years ago I learned instantly this is my intoxicant of choice. More and more, as I talk to people I realize I’m just one of many.
Q: The most surprising thing you learned on the job?
A: I think it all comes down to reefer madness and going back to your own high-school education and thinking about all the (nonsense) we’ve been told about cannabis destroying lives. Of course weed is not without its dangers and not for everyone. But when I finally dug into the beat and talked to doctors and researchers about what we know, and then learned about the Nixon administration and how they pretty much made up the War on Drugs and started a smear campaign against cannabis.
I grew up as a pretty good kid. I kept my nose clean. I trusted presidents and teachers and then to have my world view shattered made me more cynical. … We’re about to say goodbye to our first living president who said cannabis is no more dangerous than alcohol.
I’m thrilled to be part of a movement that helped to spread fact-based, science-based quality information on a substance so maligned over the decades. If in the end I helped stamped out any misinformation about weed, then I did my job.