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Can Pot Save Denver’s Struggling Newspapers?

The city of Denver seems to have stumbled onto an unconventional model for sustaining its struggling newspaper industry: cashing in on all those freely-flowing medical marijuana dollars. Cannabis dispensaries need to advertise. Newspapers need advertising revenue. Ergo, ipso facto, a match made in heaven.

Denver-based public policy analyst and political strategist Jessica Corry, writing for the Huffington Post, explains this unlikely and fortuitous turn of events in the unfolding marijuana legalization saga.

Denver is a city in love with its newspapers. Even in 2009, many residents still cling to the scent and grime of fresh newspaper print. But as the recent loss of the city’s beloved Rocky Mountain News still lingers, the focus now turns to saving the publications remaining. In an ironic twist of fate worthy of its own front page feature, essential revenue could come from the most unlikely of sources. Marijuana.

Denver’s top alternative weekly, Westword, gets it. On both sides of its most recent edition’s back cover, 32 medical marijuana dispensaries advertised their services. In addition, in the publication’s “alternative healing” section, nearly nine additional pages were packed with similar plugs.

Patricia Calhoun, Westword‘s editor and public face, has no qualms about accepting dispensaries as advertising clients. “It’s first come, first served. No moratorium here,” she said, referencing current efforts by many Colorado cities, including Denver, to enact moratoriums on new dispensaries. Westword has become so popular for marijuana-related advertising that Calhoun says she has plans to release an inaugural guide focusing exclusively on medical marijuana as early as next month.

But Westword hasn’t just stopped there. It has shrewdly utilized the broader issue of medical marijuana to make a notable splash nationally. As the New York Times recently detailed, “Westword, an alternative weekly newspaper in Denver, has the standard lineup of film, food and music critics. But in what may be a first for American journalism, the paper is shopping around for a medical marijuana critic.” According to Calhoun, more than 250 people submitted formal applications for the post.

While medical marijuana may be the source of laughter to some, including late night comedian Conan O’Brien, who joked, “My one suggestion for the editors: Give the guy a deadline,” Calhoun and her colleagues are smart, picking up on what can only be described as marijuana’s gold rush.

But what does this mean for more mainstream publications, who appear conflicted about whether to accept such controversial advertising?

Read the whole article here.

Photo: Reuters


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