Fearing crossfire from state/federal conflicts, Nevada cities kick MMJ discussions down the road

Photo Courtesy Torben Hansen via Flickr

Photo Courtesy Torben Hansen via Flickr

Following in the footsteps of Las Vegas, the Reno City Council decided last week to delay any vote or conversation on implementing medical marijuana until next year.

Though the Las Vegas City Council ultimately took a harsher route in placing a six-month moratorium on any type of medical marijuana business (Reno only voted to reconvene six months down the road), the two largest counties in Nevada have decided to wait until early 2014 to set local ordinances governing the legal buying and selling of medical marijuana.

At this point, I think (we need) a wait and see approach,” Reno City Councilwoman Neoma Jardon told RGJ reporter Emerson Marcus.

News of the delays, especially in Las Vegas, attracted some criticism from medical marijuana activists, but essentially puts both cities on the same path as the state towards an April 1, 2014 deadline to figure out any additional medical marijuana guidelines, as set forth in a bill passed last legislative session.

A disagreement over the delay is why Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus voted against the Council’s decision to reconvene. Brekhus, who was the only ‘no’ vote, said she was wary of any sort of vote to limit medical marijuana due to the “muddled grounds” between federal, state and local laws.

While Brekhus said she personally sees the merits of medical marijuana, she would rather wait and see how state regulators shape medical marijuana policy, rather than forge ahead and deal with the consequences of being caught between state and federal laws.

“I think it’s really getting into a muddled area between federal and state authorities and cities are caught in the middle,” she said.


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.

UNR releases more details on Michelle Obama visit

The University of Nevada, Reno released more details regarding First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit to the university on Wednesday. Copied below is an email sent out to the undergraduate student listserv:

The University of Nevada, Reno’s Quad will be the site for a public event featuring First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday, October 3. Access to the morning-long event on Wednesday will begin at 8:15 a.m. and tickets will be required.

Additional event information, including information about the on-campus ticket distribution beginning Monday morning, is posted on the University’s online calendar at www.unr.edu<http://www.unr.edu>.

As always, please keep pedestrian and traffic safety in mind and watch for directional signage that will be posted primarily on Virginia Street for this event. It is anticipated that no changes will be made to the regular student parking plans. The public will be directed to park on the upper two levels of the West Stadium Parking Complex and in the parking lots north of campus. Changes are anticipated for parking areas in the vicinity of the Quad and Morrill Hall, and these changes will be communicated to faculty and staff next week.

This information is being provided as a courtesy, in recognition of the significance of this public event.

–              Division of Student Services

Internship Log: My 12-hour first day at the RGJ

What a goddamn first day. After arriving about half an hour early to the RGJ office, I was forced to play around with Twitter for about an hour until I was given a desk and a story to report. The story is a good one, dealing with a Southwest Reno neighborhood’s opposition to an opening youth drug rehabilitation center culminating in a protest yesterday and a meeting at Reno City Hall today. It felt nice to actually report again, rather than to regurgitate whatever scientific conference or mildly boring research awards the University deemed fit to show off. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed working at Media Relations very much, but there’s such a fundamental difference in the way a newsroom operates and a public relations firm operates. There is much more of a sense of urgency, a need to get all relevant sides and angles of a story right now, rather than in a week or two.

This difference was highlighted especially by the breaking news of a fire in Douglas County. Engrossed in my reporting, I ignored the escalating pace of the newsroom along with the sound of more and more phones ringing. Finally, an editor came over to my desk and essentially told me to drop whatever I was doing, and to figure out a way to Topaz Ranch Estates. To the fire. As I began packing my supplies and writing down directions, Brian Duggan turned around and said, “Welcome to the RGJ.”

The drive from the Gazette-Journal’s offices to the site of the fire takes about an hour and a half, give or take the traffic going through Carson City, Minden and any other small towns along the way. Though I attempted to drive with at least some regard to the speed limit, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body. It was the same feeling I had driving up to Galena High School during the Washoe Drive fire, and the same feeling driving through South Reno to get a closer look at the Caughlin Ranch Fire. Getting out of Carson City was the first time I saw the smoke from the blaze. From there, I would alternate between driving a handful of miles, stopping on the side of the road, jumping out to take a picture with my smartphone and then sending them out through email to the RGJ and on my personal Twitter account. When I arrived at the turn-off for Topaz Ranch, about 2 miles from the evacuation center, I finally got a good look at the inferno. It engulfed half the sky.

I spent about two hours at the community center, interviewing evacuees, taking more pictures of the fire, then slowly typing them out through my phone and emailing them back to the RGJ. All in all, I took about 15 pictures and found three good interviews during my time in Topaz Ranch, some of which were immediately posted to the RGJ site. Overall, I spent nearly 12 hours working, reporting and driving today, published photos and interviewed evacuees — all on my first day. Today, I’ll be focusing on the protest story as well as juggling whatever the news editors throw my way. What a goddamn first day. There’s nothing else I would rather do.

Is this RGJ headline misleading?

While prowling through today’s front pages (through the wonderful Newseum, of course,) from Nevada, I became interested in how the RGJ decided to play the story about the University of Nevada’s presidential search committee recommending Dr. Marc Johnson for the position of president. Johnson has served as interim president since the death of his predecessor, Milton Glick, and it came as a surprise to no one that he was selected by the committee. I’ve liked Johnson since I found out that he helped found a chapter of my fraternity as Emporia State University in Kansas.) The RGJ, as you can see below, decided to play the story up big.

As you can probably tell by the title of this post, I think the Johnson headline could be easily misconstrued by someone not overtly familiar with the entire story. The headline, “Hometown candidate gets nod,” is misleading because Reno isn’t really the hometown of Johnson. If you look up his bio, Johnson was actually born and educated in Kansas, and only came to Nevada in 2008 to become provost. Merriam-Webster defines hometown as, “The city or town where one was born or grew up; also : the place of one’s principal residence.” 

Technically, the Reno is the hometown of Johnson, as he has lived here for four years. But using the word hometown could lead to someone assuming that Johnson is a Nevada native or UNR graduate, which is not true. I know how difficult it is to write decent headlines when constrained by columns and font size, but it’s critical to make sure that headlines are as accurate as possible. Especially when it’s on the front page.

HIV rumors go viral at UNR

Storify works best if you start at the bottom, then work your way up.

  1. As of today, the Nevada Sagebrush still has an un-updated story on their website.
  2. Share
    #USA – Rumors of #HIV outbreak at #UNR spread like wildfire bit.ly/I1v5MH (via @hivhaven)
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 12:46:50
  3. Share
    Ohhh really? RT @EasyGayLife: Rumors of HIV outbreak at UNR spread like wildfire – msnbc.com on.msnbc.com/HOSlNz
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 01:00:00
  4. Share
    In #Reno #NV, a rumor of #HIV cluster spreads through college campus: ow.ly/a6hlk #AIDS
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 16:01:04
  5. Share
    I got an e-mail saying the HIV outbreak thing isn’t true. BUT STILL b safe ppl
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 00:44:47
  6. Share
    @kysisson Medical director at UNR Student Health Center: unfounded rumor of HIV infection on campus. SHC sees no indication that rumor true.
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 18:57:05
  7. Share
    Rumors of HIV outbreak at UNR spread like wildfire fb.me/F8kAtdFx
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 21:14:46
  8. Share
    Supposed Health Outbreak at UNR Not True bit.ly/HW9Zhe
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 19:41:15
  9. Share
    Relax people, it’s only a rumor. RT @KRNV Rumors of HIV outbreak at UNR spread like wildfire mynews4.com/news/local/sto…
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 21:24:47
  10. Both KRNV and KTVN picked up the story. KRNV left the narrative open, while KTVN’s denied it. As it turned out, KRNV’s ended up getting linked to by a number of different sources
  11. Share
    HIV rumor fact or fiction? It’s looking more and more true.
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 17:43:44
  12. Share
    The #UNR health center is denying rumors of an HIV outbreak on campus, but @TheSagebrush sez 75-100 students checked in past 48 hrs for HIV
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 18:56:46
  13. At 3:23, Student Health Center Director Cheryl Hug-English sent out an email saying that any rumors about the outbreak didn’t appear to have a factual basis. However, she did say that about 75-100 students had checked into the health center for STD testing. It is free STD testing week, after all.
  14. Share
    RT @TheSagebrush: Everything we know about the unproven HIV scare at UNR is updated on our Open the News group on.fb.me/HgU7bC UNR admin comment included
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 19:05:33
  15. Share
    BREAKING: Alleged HIV outbreak on university’s campus. Waiting for press release.
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 17:18:06
  16. Share
    apparently there’s an outbreak of herpes and HIV in 2 of the dorms #renoproblems #scaryAF #whyidontsleeparound #HERPESISFORLIFE
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 17:59:07
  17. Share
    I heard there was an hiv outbreak at unr, well I’m glad I go to kaplan and all we have is herpes
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 16:24:04
  18. Share
    RT @NieshyWins: Over 20 confirmed case of HIV in the UNR dorms. Go get tested students• Oh my God!•
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 15:08:45
  19. Share
    Uhhhh I hope this HIV breakout thing at unr isn’t true. Wrap it up ppl
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 14:39:59
  20. Share
    Da fuck is dis shit!? RT @TheSagebrush: If anyone has input about the unproven HIV outbreak at UNR, contact reporter @srmward
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 13:50:33
  21. Share
    Alright, so in the last few days we’ve been hearing rumors about an HIV outbreak in the dorms at UNR. One of our reporters called up Jerome Maese, the director of residential life, and he said he has been getting phone calls about it, but can’t confirm it’s true. Anybody with information about this please privately message me.
    Also, if anyone knows why Mike Ball was booted from the Nevada Wolf Pack football team please private inbox me.
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 14:28:15
  22. Share
    RT @TheSagebrush: If anyone has input about the unproven HIV outbreak at UNR, contact reporter @srmward
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 13:46:51
  23. At this point, several Nevada Sagebrush reporters began to look into the matter. Reporters sent out tweets and posted in an open Facebook group. Most people didn’t see the addition of “unproven” or “possible,” and began to assume that an actual outbreak had taken place.
  24. Share
    My prayers go out to the students from UNR who recently found out they are infected with HIV. Its going to be ok, its not the end.
    Wed, Apr 04 2012 13:24:35
  25. Share
    Apparently there’s an HIV outbreak at UNR… #howprecious
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 03:16:36
  26. Share
    Free sti and hiv testing at UNR health center. All you bitches better go!
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 16:27:28

The right (and wrong) way to present Raggio’s funeral

Last month, the highly influential and well known former state senator Bill Raggio passed away. University of Nevada, Reno students know Raggio through the building named after him, and a memorial inside the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Raggio’s funeral was held yesterday, and attendees included Governor Brian Sandoval, a U.S. Senator, members of the state’s Supreme Court and dozens of important legislative leaders.

Both the Reno Gazette-Journal and Daily Sparks Tribune decided to play the funeral coverage huge on their respective front pages, to varying degrees of success. Both pages are below:

Although both papers used similar shots of the Honor Guard carrying Raggio’s casket, it’s immediately apparent that the layout of RGJ is more eye-catching simply because it gives the art and stories attached more room to breath. The RGJ’s cover is very centered, and the banner below the nameplate is a nice, subtle touch.

The DST cover, however, is a bit more muddled. There’s two small photos of Raggio and Sandoval which add nearly nothing, and the huge cutout of a softball player along with the cartoon of Rush Limbaugh distract from the main package. Even though there’s only 2 stories on the DST cover, compared to the three on the RGJ, the later’s cover seems to present the funeral in a more serious manner.

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.

Designing without photos in the RGJ

The lead story for the RGJ this Sunday is the lawsuit between Harvey Whittemore and the Seeno family, which really isn’t a friendly story for designers because the only art to work with is mugshots and other, more boring elements. So I like the approach the paper took using text as art, and applying it to it’s readership.

I like the idea but I don’t like the execution. The bookend columns on Whittermore and Seeno are distracting from the main element, and it’s confusing to not have a main story to attract attention–just an extended teaser for inside content. Be bold! Blow that text image up to the full width of the paper, and drop everything below it. That kind of eye-grabbing changes are necessary if you want to attract extra attention to this story. It also balances out the large amounts of white space by the huge boxing skybox.

I’m glad to see that the RGJ is trying to diversify their content and draw extra eyes to an issue, while important, isn’t that appealing visually. But I want to see them do it in the best way possible.