Introducing: A blog about medical marijuana in Nevada

It’s a great time to be a stoner.

All throughout the United States, individual states are for the most part moving to decriminalize and lessen punishments associated with the use and purchase of both medical and recreational marijuana. From Washington and Colorado legalizing pot in late 2012 to Attorney General Eric Holder’s call for sweeping changes to the nation’s drug sentencing laws, it’s quite clear that acceptance of marijuana is becoming more and more widespread.

And the state of Nevada is by no means left out of this issue; in fact, Nevadans fighting over marijuana has been in the headlines for more than a decade. In 2000, residents of the state voted to legalize medical marijuana, and then two years later shot down a proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana by almost two-thirds of voters.

And in the last state legislative session, a bill was passed to create a regulatory structure for medical marijuana dispensaries, as the state’s approximately 4,000 medical marijuana card holders have had no legal way to buy marijuana since 2000. Senate Bill 374, a bipartisan piece of legislation based mostly on Arizona’s medical marijuana system, set a deadline of early 2014 for the first medical marijuana dispensaries to be opened.

But it’s the journey to that system that’s extremely interesting. The intersecting conflicts and fights over how medicinal marijuana will be regulated involves everyone from marijuana advocates, zoning boards, U.S. Senators and local law enforcement. And the bill’s provision to allow local governments to make many of the zoning and regulatory decisions themselves means that local elected officials, like the Reno City Council, face the question of whether or not it’s even worth following the bill especially as marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Several rural counties are already pushing in that direction.

Needless to say, there’s a ton of questions sure to arise in the coming months as state regulators get a better handle on what type of medical marijuana system to implement. Some will be practical – how will the dispensaries be zoned, who will have access to them, how much will medicinal marijuana cost?

But I’d also like to get at the underlying issues for medical marijuana implementation: Who exactly holds medical marijuana cards, and what do those demographics in general look like? What kind of an impact would easing access to marijuana have on law enforcement in Reno? A state-wide proposition to legalize marijuana was defeated in 2002 – why have things changed in such a short amount of time? Who has the cash to pay the significant sums required by the state to start medical marijuana facilities? Will elected officials on Reno City Council even vote to authorize medical marijuana within city limits?

Over the next nine weeks and beyond, I hope to tackle and get a better sense on what a medical marijuana system will look like in Nevada’s future. But the story won’t stop there – there’s a significant undercurrent afoot that holds that once regulations for medical marijuana are in place, expanding to recreational marijuana won’t be nearly as difficult. State Senator Tick Segerblom told me as much over summer.

So for the next nine weeks, I’ll be posting mainly about medical marijuana. I’m calling it (for now) “The Silver Bake,” or at least until I can think of a catchier title. All of the posts will appear on this blog, and archived on a separate page.

On a personal level, I don’t really have a dog in this fight- I don’t smoke marijuana and don’t plan too, regardless of whatever kind of legalization may pass over the coming decades. I’m welcome to all kinds of criticism and comments, and please don’t hesitate to comment or contact me if you have questions or ideas of what you’d like to see covered. You can contact me here.

Will Gannett’s new paywall hurt the RGJ?

Although the news is mildly old now, Gannett Company announced that all of their websites would shift to a delayed paywall for all of it’s websites by the end of the year, similar to the one adopted by the New York Times a few years ago. Although USA Today will be exempt from the change, the paywall will affect all 80 plus community newspaper owned by the company, including the Detroit Free Press, The Indianapolis Star and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Putting aside the business side, this is huge news for media consumers in Washoe County, because the RGJ is really the only publication doing real investigative and quality news journalism in the area. The Daily Sparks Tribune has a minuscule online presence and little original content, Reno News and Review is focused more on entertainment and other ‘light’ news, and the Nevada Appeal already has a paywall in place.

So in a way, the RGJ has a kind of monopoly on local news in Reno, which means theoretically that the paywall should work out for both the paper and Gannett, which expects an estimated $100 million in new revenue from the system. Gannett is also allowing changes to be made on a local level.  But when I emailed journalism professor David Ryfe about the upcoming paywall, he expressed some doubts about how the system would work.

… I don’t know if it will work.  But I’m deeply skeptical that it will, mainly because I don’t think it will generate enough revenue to offset the declines in advertising that will accompany the paywall.

So the real question here for the RGJ is whether the organization can convince it’s readers, who are mainly older professionals, that paying for their news is worth it. Experiments in other Gannett-owned newspapers have worked relatively well, as a casually optimistic post from the Neiman Journalism Lab points out. When I spoke to members of the RGJ staff last week during a summer internship interview, they seemed positive that their online presence could turn a paywall into a profitable endeavor.

While it’s extremely difficult to make a prediction, I think the RGJ will work it out in the end if only because they are the main source for news in Northern Nevada, and without quality free alternatives, they should succeed.