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CBS, NBC Push Puff Pieces on Pot, Dream of ‘Light Up and Write Up’ Pulitzer Pot Prize

On Monday, all three broadcast network morning news shows gave mention to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Washington state with sales set to begin on Tuesday. In particular, CBS This Morning and NBC’s Today devoted entire segments to the drug and not only were both stories positive, a statement from the former President of Drug Watch International on Today was the only sort of opposing viewpoint provided.

The four-minute-and-eight-second piece by CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen was the latest in what truly has been a network oscillating back and forth between critical stories and puff pieces on pot. Without question, Monday’s report belonged in the latter. After mentioning that sales will begin Tuesday in Washington, Petersen went on to profile the writers of The Cannabis, a website run by The Denver Post that is “about all things pot.” [MP3 audio here]

Petersen reported that the website and its editor, Ricardo Baca, are in search of “critics who are experienced writers and smokers.”

Substitute co-host Jeff Glor began the segment by saying the job of pot critic is “[a]mong the most sought-after positions.”

Petersen interviewed three different pot critics and watched as two of them smoked different types of marijuana and questioned them on what their “initial reaction” was to each of them. At one point, he even had one critic identify certain types of the drug without looking.

Towards the end, Petersen exclaimed that:

Perhaps it was inevitable that the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use would spawn a new kind of journalism where even the pot critics are still gets used to their new careers. 

Further, he concluded: 

And who knows, someday, there might even be a Pulitzer Prize to light up and write up. 

Over on Today, co-host Natalie Morales said in a tease for the two-minute-and-43-second segment that:

Meanwhile, coming up, high prices, shortages, rationing. We're not talking about gas or food. We're talking about marijuana. The big concerns as another state gets set to allow the legal sale of marijuana. 

This supposed dilemma was the main focus of NBC News west coast correspondent Joe Fryer interviewed the head of a dispensary that may have to shut its doors if it sells all of its supply too quickly due to growers being unable to keep up with the heightened demand.

Fryer joked at the end of his report that the shop he profiled, known as Cannabis City, “plans to open tomorrow at high noon.”

While both reports led to laughter on each set among the co-hosts, the only opposition to marijuana or its legalization came in the form of a statement from Sandra Bennett, who was a former President of Drug Watch International. Fryer did not mention her by name or the organization she worked for, but instead referred to her as “one critic.”

On ABC’s Good Morning America, substitute co-host Dan Harris mentioned the legalization of marijuana for recreational use for 7 seconds in the 7:00 a.m. news brief. Harris reported that:

The countdown is on in Washington state where legal marijuana starts tomorrow. Washington is the second state to legalize pot sales after Colorado.

 The complete transcript for the July 7 report on CBS This Morning is transcribed below.

CBS

CBS This Morning

July 7, 2014

7:43 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: “Weed All About It: Denver Newspaper Writers Review Marijuana”]

GAYLE KING: Overnight, Washington state emailed marijuana licenses to some of the shops that will start selling pot tomorrow for recreational use. Washington is the second state where voter approved legislation is taking effect. 

[ON-SCREEN GRAPHIC: The Seattle Times - “State’s Retail Pot Gets Rolling Tuesday,” The New York Times - “Still-Divided Washington Readies for Start of Recreational Marijuana Sales,” Reuters - “Marijuana Shortage Seen Ahead for Washington State Retail Pot Rollout”]

JEFF GLOR: In Colorado, recreational pot became legal in January, and the marijuana industry is creating new jobs. Among the most sought-after positions, that of pot critic. Barry Petersen shows us what it takes to be a professional connoisseur for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver Post

JAKE BROWN: We’ll be right here.

BARRY PETERSEN: Jake Brown lives by his taste buds --

JAKE BROWN: What’s with the name?

PETERSEN: – or more like the marijuana buds he tastes. That’s because he's a paid pot critic. So like a wine, like you can tell a Cabernet from a Merlot from a whatever by sniffing. So you can really do the same with marijuana?

BROWN: Absolutely. You’re also going to have visual cues from different types of marijuana, whether it's dense, whether it tends to grow a little bit longer, different colors. All of those things helps you make that full, full diagnosis. 

PETERSEN: But before you send in a resume, make sure you know the difference between OG Kush and Deadhead OG – ok, so, you have the three of them lined up and –  because Jake does – without looking. 

Ok, let’s see how good you are.

BROWN: I’m gonna say it’s an OG. 

PETERSEN: It’s a Deadhead OG.

BROWN: It is an OG.,

PETERSEN: Jake writes his reviews over coffee in public, but heads home to his back porch to smoke in private, as required by Colorado law. [To Brown] So, first impressions? 

BROWN: Nice, a little hashy, but tastes like a queen's flush, almost kinda like a movie theater popcorn flavor, which is nice. Like a really quick uptake in heart rate. A little pressure in the face. 

PETERSEN: So, you really feel the effects? Like that?

BROWN: With this stuff, absolutely. 

PETERSEN: His reviews run in The Cannabist, a website run by The Denver Post about all things pot. It’s editor, Ricardo Baca, looks for critics who are experienced writers and smokers. 

How do you become authoritative? You can’t, like, go to college – and get a degree in this.

RICARDO BACA: You know, it’s a squandered youth. 

[Laughter]

PETERSEN: Reviewer Ry Prichard, might agree with that. He started smoking and studying pot as a teenager and focuses on how different strains can help different medical problems.

RY PRICHARD: I always light joints like lighting a cigar 

PETERSEN: From easing anxiety to easing the pain of terminal diseases. 

Alright, instant review. 

PRICHARD: Yeah, I mean – it – it wouldn’t – you know, it's not my favorite flavor, I guess. It's a little neutral for me, but it’s clean. It’s clean. It's good -- you know, good medicine from the sense that it’s grown cleanly. 

PETERSEN: His reviews are both informative and technical.

PRICHARD: Basically, what gives cannabis its flavor is terpenoids and flavonoids. There's terpens that smell dead on to lemon peel, lemon zest. Others, like I said, that smell like skunk and death. So you really have the entire wheel. 

PETERSEN: I think you'd have hard time selling me on eithe skunk or death. 

[Laughter]

PRICHARD: Yeah. Again, that's definitely an acquired taste. 

PETERSEN: Perhaps it was inevitable that the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use would spawn a new kind of journalism where even the pot critics are still gets used to their new careers. [To Brown] I think people would say that you have the kind of job where you get high and write about it. Isn’t that funny?

BROWN: It definitely wasn't where I saw myself. My dream job was to be a lawyer. Now, I just hope I won't need one. 

PETERSEN: And who knows, someday, there might even be a Pulitzer prize to light up and write up. For CBS This Morning, Barry Petersen, Denver. 

NORAH O’DONNELL: Well, Barry Petersen always does a nice job on these stories, but I have to say, Barry, love the pockets square and the glasses and the guy, talking about a clean flush. 

GLOR: He’s just listening. He’s reporting. So, lemon peel is on one end, and skunk and death are on the other.

KING: But I love their assessment, though. Yeah, I love their assessment. Serious.

GLOR: Quite a spectrum.

[Laughter]

The complete transcript for the July 7 report on NBC’s Today is transcribed below.

NBC 

Today

July 7, 2014

7:31 a.m. Eastern

TEASE

NATALIE MORALES: Meanwhile, coming up, high prices, shortages, rationing. We're not talking about gas or food. We're talking about marijuana. The big concerns as another state gets set to allow the legal sale of marijuana. 

7:36 a.m. Eastern

SEGMENT

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Developing Story - Weedless In Seattle: Shortage as Legalized Sales Set in Washington] 

WILLIE GEIST: This week, Washington becomes the second state to allow the sale of recreational marijuana and many there are already bracing for a pot shortage. NBC’s Joe Fryer is at a store in Seattle that is getting ready to sell. Joe, good morning. 

JOE FRYER: Good morning, Willie. This store, Cannabis City, plans to open to the public tomorrow, but looking around here, you'll notice something is missing from these glass cases. Marijuana. Their star product won't arrive here until tomorrow, thanks to Washington's strict regulations. There's not a spot of pot inside Cannabis City right now, but tomorrow this will likely be the only shop in Seattle and one of just a handful in the state selling recreational marijuana. 

JAMES LATHROP: I think this is going to be an event for Seattle history. 

FRYER: Owner James Lathrop says once he gets his license from the state today, he can officially order marijuana from his grower, Nine Point Growth Industries. But under the law, that company must quarantine the product for 24 hours before delivering it and even then, Cannabis City will only receive ten pounds total. 

LATHROP: The supplier we already have, he’s sold everything he has. I mean, he does not have another nug to sell.

FRYER: For Washington, this is a gradual rollout. As many as 20 shops will get licenses to sell today, even though 70,000 have been applied and only 79 people allowed to grow out of 2600 applicants. 

RICK GARZA [WA STATE LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD]: We're going to do this right. We're going to take the time that it takes and I'm sure, like Colorado, there will be fewer stores and I suppose that they'll run out of product. 

BEN LIVINGSTON [CENTER FOR LEGAL CANNABIS]: I'm guessing it's going to be until the later part of this year that you're actually going to be able to get a reliable supply of cannabis. 

FRYER: With long lines and short supplies, Cannabis City plans to sell out quickly even if prices are high. 

LATHROP: As a business, if you don't have product to sell, we might have to close the doors for a short time. If we do, we will open as soon as we can. 

FRYER: But one critic says the problem isn't that marijuana is going to be available to too few people up here. It's that a dangerous drug will be readily accessible for far too many including children. 

[ON-SCREEN GRAPHIC: “The problem isn’t that marijuana is going to be available to too few people up here – it’s that a dangerous drug will be readily accessible for far too many, including children.” - Sandra Bennett, Former President of Drug Watch International]

Unlike Colorado, Washington is not allowing the sale of edibles at least for now. This morning, Cannabis City has already received its license via e-mail and placed its order for marijuana which should arrive early tomorrow. The store says that it plans to open tomorrow at high noon. Willie.

HOSTS: Oh, Joe! 

[Laughter]

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Thank you. 

GEIST: You had to sneak that in there. 

MORALES: You did. That and weedless in Seattle. 

GUTHRIE: Yeah, I know, I have to give that one a slow clap for the producer who came up with that. It’s pretty good. 

GEIST: We know you'll be on this story for a long time to come. Thanks so much.

[Laughter]

GUTHRIE: Yeah – in Cannabis City.

— Curtis Houck is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Curtis Houck on Twitter.