Why Your Marijuana Coverage Is Terrible (and Not Just on 4/20)

A budtender rolls a joint.

Only someone who has not had to run from the police to pursue happiness and health through their preferred plant would ever question whether or not weed was more pleasurable back when it was illegal. David McNew/Getty Images

“Canada has made pot super boring,” reads the headline of a piece published Wednesday on the website of The New Yorker, under the byline of Stephen Marche. Marche is a novelist and a columnist for Esquire, and his feel this April 20—the latest in an as-yet unyielding string of bigger-than-ever cannabis Christmases, as more states (Michigan!) and more countries (Canada!) legalize marijuana—is one of crushing ennui.

Lab-tested and labeled cannabis has been available in stores in Canada for less than six months, people are not going to jail in the droves they once were, and a very big and very unwieldy industry is in Year 1 of trying to find itself and find where and how it fits in the world. For most of us, this is a deep and variegated vein to mine for treasures. For Marche, this shit is kicked.

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Legalization—ho-hum, he writes. Wasn’t everything better before—when cannabis was illegal? Wasn’t the fun—the whole point of the thing—the fact that this activity was suffused with risk and danger?

“If you want to suck the power and glamour out of drugs, let the government run them,” is one line lifted from the piece—and emblematic enough of the substance of the content within for The New Yorker to pull it for use on social media, where Marche spent the middle part of the week doing his best impression of a charcoal briquette. Forget healing benefits, forget the still not entirely known dance THC and the dozens and dozens of other brother and sister cannabinoids play on the brain and the body. “The legalization of marijuana has raised a question,” the caption of a stock photo accompanying the piece reads. “How much of the pleasure of the drug came from its illicitness?”

This is, of course, a ridiculous question. It has “value” only as a very clumsy rhetorical device, a dull tool, wielded ham-handedly, useful only in the kind of circles where $250,000 for a spot on the fencing team is a good investment. Only someone who has not had to run from the police, or hide from the authorities, or play games with TSA or otherwise risk anything at all to pursue happiness and health through their preferred plant would ever ask it. “Why of course, genius,” says the cannabis user safely ensconced in her home, vaping blissfully in a cannabis-infused bubble-bath, the last flakes of a well-balanced craft edible on her lips. “Buying Ziploc baggies from a criminal I was afraid would rape me was so much better.”

You could argue that Marche’s piece is glazed over with what the infirm or the guileless could be convinced is a thin veneer of irony—like, he doesn’t actually mean what he said. What he meant was that legal is boring, and legal is good, and so boring is good. “It will finally be possible to think sensibly about marijuana,” reads his kicker, a few lines after he says, oh but perhaps in white man jest, that he and the police are on the same side and there is nothing he could do to anger the authorities. “And what could be more boring?” The thing about conceits like this is that they have to work, and to work they have to be honest, if not earnest. This was none of that.

Sufficiently roasted, Marche posted the requisite, “This was just too sophisticated for you, idiots who read, you just don’t get it” follow-up tweet. Was there some hidden meaning behind his very clear, very ignorant and borderline offensive provocations? Yes: It is that most coverage of cannabis in the mainstream press is terrible.

There are many very good journalists working in the cannabis space. Many of them work at outlets you know. They do not treat cannabis like some amusing sideshow that strolled into view. They resist the allure of the obvious joke. But there are many, many others who do not know what they are talking about, and go straight for the Grateful Dead and Bob Marley allusions and the snack-food references rather than find out. We get tropes and stereotypes that would cause writers to lose their careers if they were applied to women, or minorities, or pets.

This is the world where skull-drillingly awful puns go, not to die, but to stagger on through the ages, dropping patches of rotted prose as they go in search of the sweet death that will not come. It is where the gauche coat of blithe privilege is worn as a badge of honor. It is where you can say just the most jaw-droppingly ignorant shit and then double-up on that with practiced pompous nonsense.

This is not to call out The New Yorker in particular. The New Yorker employs Charles Bethea, who has approached this space—and its hucksters and influencers of the moment, the former marketing associates and real-estate attorneys and hedge-fund wraiths trying to slip into the jet-stream of profit—with curiosity and openness and nuance. It is absolutely to call out the smirking superficiality, the “hungover Bill Maher on a day he didn’t bother to prepare” approach.

Marche wasn’t all wrong. He grouses about corporate cannabis (welcome to the party, homie; it started three years ago) and wonders if Seth Rogen’s weed brand “sullies the whole experience.” No—bad weed sold by profiteers makes cannabis bad. Good weed sold by good people is good and will always be. It’s not that hard to find, nor is a decent narrative device used by someone who knows what they’re talking about and is eager to do so like an intelligent and thinking adult. This piece sucked, and there are far too many others like it.

Why Your Marijuana Coverage Is Terrible (and Not Just on 4/20)