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Exclusive interview with Ricardo Baca, marijuana editor of the Denver Post

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While the stigma of marijuana is still alive and well in certain sections of the country, it has been part of Colorado’s culture ever since Amendment 20 allowed the medical use of the plant in 2000. Currently, there are more medical marijuana dispensaries in the Centennial State than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. The recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014 and the eyes of the nation will be on Colorado's ongoing “green rush.”

In the midst of all the chaos, Americans will need a legitimate news source for all things weed-related. So here comes Ricardo Baca, the new marijuana editor for the Denver Post. Baca has been working for the Post for 12 years as the entertainment editor and music critic. His new job title is a first for a daily newspaper and has been the subject of recent interviews from around the country and even the world. Baca has been interviewed on “The Colbert Report,” Al Jazeera and was the topic of heated discussion on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Whether you support legalization or are vehemently against its use, marijuana is making its way to the mainstream. As the hurricane hits, Baca and his team of writers will encapsulate the news and subcultures of everything weed-related.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the man himself, Ricardo Baca, and discuss a little about his new position, how he got into his new job, and the wide world of weed.

Are you the first marijuana editor in the country?

I don’t know. I’ve been told that I’m the first at a daily newspaper, I don’t know if that’s the case but let’s go with it. I wouldn’t doubt if the position had existed in such publications as High Times before.

Is there a reason why you think there isn’t a marijuana editor in Washington or California?

I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before we see it. Am I surprised that it’s not there yet? Maybe not. We only named ours two or three weeks ago and here we are. That was about a month out from the pot shops being here and we’re going to have those here well before they open in Washington.

How did you end up in this job?

One of the reasons I was approached for this position was because I had already started a couple of things here that have become part of the (Denver) Post’s culture. I co-founded a music festival with former colleague John Moore 12 years ago called UMS (Underground Music Showcase). (Moore) started it over on Colfax and I moved it over to Broadway and grew it. It started off with four bands in one night at the Bluebird and when I left after 10 years it was 350 bands at 30 venues over four nights. It’s considerably bigger now and the Post has a full-time person running it.

I also helped start something called Reverb. At the time, the Post didn’t want a music festival or a music blog, it wasn’t a big initiative then but we knew how we wanted to cover it because we felt like we weren’t covering music to the extent that we wanted to be covering it. We launched it at the time with four or five freelancers, now it has a full time editor on staff with about 40 to 50 stringers. I think that was part of the reason why they approached me for this job, that history of building a community, creating a community and starting something from very little.

Granted, we already have a gigantic base of news coverage that the reporters here have done, but we haven’t really been serious about the culture of marijuana until now; that’s going to be a very significant focus of this site.

As for your position, are you going to be dealing more with news, or is it mostly reviewing of stores, strains, dispensaries, etc.?

As for my position, I’m overseeing the cannabis cultural reporting; we already have a well-oiled machine creating the news content that readers have become used to in the Denver Post. I’ll be incorporating that into our coverage and hopefully adding to it, but ultimately this is us stepping up and saying “we’re ready to name our pot critic, we’re ready to start writing about this drug culturally now that it’s legal” and how it effects our everyday lives, how it effects our weekends, how it effects our interpretation of the art around us.

Do you think you were chosen for this job because of your pro/anti marijuana history?

No, I have zero history taking an opinion on it. I’ve been very private up until now about my usage, so that had nothing to do with it. As journalists, we’re not paid to go out and make a pro or anti statement. Even if it had been approached in all the other interviews that I’ve done, I’ve always been very straightforward about not taking one side of the issue, but to let them know what’s happening in Colorado to the best of my ability.

Along with your team of writers, what kind of content will you be putting together beyond news?

So we will have a pot critic or two, or three. They will be reviewing strains, drinks and edibles, not to mention the various products that are associated with them such as olive oils, tinctures and so on. We’ll be severely upping our food writing; we’re in talks with a number of bakers and chefs around the country who will be eventually submitting essays, recipes, photography and think pieces. Ideally we’ll have at least one of those going up that’ll fully take you through the process of making a soup or a batch of brownies. We’ll also be writing about art, video games, music, film. There will be plenty of readable lists. It will be very fun.

Is it because topics such as art, music, film video games and weed go so well together, or are you trying to examine the culture with marijuana being a jumping off point?

It’ll be a little bit more of the latter. Because it has been such a taboo subject for decades, many musicians and artists haven’t necessarily been willing to talk openly about how it effects the creation of their art. Mainstream papers might have also shied away from it since it has been illegal and didn’t feel comfortable talking about how this drug may have affected this artist that did choose to talk about it. Now that it’s legal and everything has changed, while it certainly still is taboo in certain circles, we’re finding a lot more people who are open to get together and really talk about how their art wouldn’t exist, at least in this form, were it not for their relationship with marijuana.

Will being a habitual weed smoker be part of the job requirement for these contractors?

No, absolutely not. The only person who really needs to ingest is the critic position since they’ll be talking about it specifically. Whether the other writers do or don’t is their own decision, but they’ll be hired based on their ability to write about that culture.

Will the news stories pertain to Colorado only, or will you expand your coverage to a national or global scale?

Definitely global. There is an undeniable local focus, but I already have someone lined up in Uruguay who is already working on a couple pieces for us. I’m speaking with someone in Washington State today about having semi-regular pieces from there. Those articles will go on the site immediately and then be offered to print. We hope the majority of the content from the site gets picked up in one section or another, although we understand that some of the content will not ever appear in print.

There are going to be quite a few critics that won’t necessarily agree with this kind of journalism, most recently Bill O’Reilly. How do you plan to bring legitimacy to this position?

We’re just going to do this like we’ve approached everything else, the same way we created Reverb and made it one of the most relied upon music resources in this region. I don’t think we approach anything to do it half-assed or unprofessionally, but I know that will still leave the critics out there. There are people out there who will certainly question or even make the accusation that certain pieces on this site are glorifying this drug, that’s just their perspective. Ultimately, newspapers have long written freely about legal substances; be it wine, beer, or bar culture. People who tend to have more conservative values will disagree with that and disagree with this new coverage as well.

Has there been any backlash from friends, family or colleagues about your new position?

No, everybody couldn’t have been more supportive. We have a great community here at the paper and have a very supportive family. All good on that front!



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