By KIRSTEN KRAKLIO
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX – It’s time for the news media and nation to stop making cannabis the butt of jokes and source of puns and treat the plant as a serious business topic, several journalists and CEOs said Friday.
“As a journalist I’ve been embarrassed by a lot of the coverage that’s been going on in this industry,” Al Olsen, senior editor at CNBC, said during a panel discussion at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ spring conference.
“It’s time to drop the the Cheech and Chong jokes; it’s to drop the reefer madness,” he said. “It’s time to cover this like a real business.”
According to Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that invests in the legal cannabis industry, 81 percent of Americans believe that medical cannabis should be legal if it’s prescribed by a doctor.
“You can’t get 81 percent of Americans to agree on anything, but they agree on this,” he said.
“As a crop, it’s bigger than corn, it’s bigger than soybeans, it’s almost as big as corn and soybeans together,” Kennedy said.
Steve DeAngelo, CEO of Harborside Health Center, a Bay Area medical marijuana dispensary, said legal changes have enabled the creation of a new cannabis industry.
“We had a vision of a truly nonprofit community centered facility that would present cannabis as a wellness product not as an intoxicant,” DeAngelo said.
He said he wanted his vision to “create a gold standard of cannabis distribution that would demonstrate to the world that cannabis can be distributed in a way that can bring benefits to communities and not harm when properly regulated.”
Chris Walsh, editor of the Marijuana Business Daily, said the industry of cannabis has been one of the most fascinating and difficult topics he’s covered.
But according to Walsh, a lot of media outlets are blowing their coverage and not covering the topic full time like they would another industry.
“There’s been a lot of lifestyle coverage, especially with TV. Kind of like, ‘Look at me, I’m in a room full of marijuana plants, this is crazy,’” he said.
Rather than just focusing on legislative topics, Walsh said outlets should look to more business-oriented questions such as how legalization affects other businesses, how many jobs are created and how much revenue is generated.
“There’s way more to this industry than people are giving it credit for,” he said.