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Is POLITICO at War With the Marijuana Industry?

Does POLITICO have it in for marijuana? One could be forgiven for thinking so after it published a piece Thursday with the blaring headline "The Marijuana Industry's War on the Poor."

The article, written by Denver Post reporter Jon Murray, examines concerns among some residents of some poorer Denver areas about the impact of the legal pot business on their neighborhoods. The communities, once home to smelters, stockyards, brickyards, and packing houses, are now bedeviled by the smell of weed. Or, at least, that's what a couple of people quoted in the article said.

The piece is actually fairly good reporting, laying out tensions between a trendy new high-growth industry and the communities it is impacting.  But even though legal weed is a new industry, what is going on is not a new story; it's the same old story of poorer communities feeling run over by high-energy commerce, complete with the familiar issues around quality of life, real estate prices, and gentrification.

That's a legitimate—if somewhat overstated—concern, but it's not evidence of the pot industry's "war on the poor." At worst, one could say the industry (and elected officials) were heedless of community concerns—driven by profit considerations, they didn't think too much about local impacts—but it is probably even more accurate to say they were just slow to respond to unforeseen and emerging issues.

Still, Murray's piece gives the impression the he is trying hard to find something—anything—negative to say about marijuana legalization in Colorado:

"Two years after legal sales of recreational marijuana began in Colorado, the biggest fears that once preoccupied Denver city officials—higher crime, more drug use among teens and a drag on tourism—have not come to pass. Instead, the expanded industry, with 21-and-over recreational sales joining a longer-sanctioned medical marijuana trade, has pumped millions of dollars into government coffers. It's swathed the city in a trendy glow that likely attracts as many outsiders as it repels.

"But in lower-income neighborhoods of Denver, the explosion of smelly commercial cultivation operations, which crank out tons of high-priced weed for sometimes-chic, sometimes-earthy dispensaries in more fashionable parts of town, has rekindled long-standing grievances about being ignored by City Hall. And residents are beginning to demand big changes."

Some of those residents appear to just not like marijuana.

“One of the things that we thought was going to happen when [recreational] marijuana was legalized was that drugs would be taken out of our community,” said Candi CdeBaca, an education and community activist whose longtime family home is steps from a commercial grow operation in Elyria-Swansea. “What happened was that the drugs stayed—and the drug dealers changed.”

Referring to state-licensed retail marijuana outlets as "drug dealers" provides some indication of where Cdebaca is coming from. But it's still within her rights to act as she sees fit to protect her community, and she is doing so.

And both city officials and the pot industry are listening. The city council last month approved a new law to limit industry growth by capping the number of commercial grow and retail shops, as well as barring grow operations within 1,000 feet of residential zones. Another responsive ordinance will require businesses seeking new licenses or renewals to submit "good neighbor" outreach plans, and next year, grow ops will have to present odor-control plans to the city.

A marijuana industry war on the poor? Not hardly. Another tale of the tensions between American capitalism and the communities it impacts? Absolutely. The issues are important, but they can and are being handled by the community, the industry, and elected officials.

Shame on POLITICO for taking a decent article that raises important issues and saddling it with an inflammatory, bogus headline. 

It's even sadder that POLITICO used that headline for an article in its What Works portfolio, "A year-long reported series from POLITICO magazine featuring innovative ideas--and how they spread--from cities across the United States at a time of unprecedented urban reinvention." It seems that what is working here is Denver moving to embrace the marijuana industry while addressing community concerns, not that headline. 

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