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Four Things You Missed at the L.A. Times Festival Books Cannabis Panel

April 26, 2018

Insights from L.A. Times reporters on the changing landscape of cannabis coverage

Last weekend the Los Angeles Times hosted their annual Festival of Books. On a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon about seventy five people gathered at an outdoor stage on the University of Southern California’s campus to hear Deputy Fashion Editor Adam Tschorn moderate a panel titled “The Weed Beat: Covering Cannabis from California to D.C.” The hour-long conversation featured insights from L.A. Times reporters Robin Abcarian, Evan Halper, and Sarah Parvini about how their jobs covering cannabis have changed and what they plan to focus on next in this rapidly changing industry.

1.   Newsroom Stigma is Changing Fast

Robin Abcarian remembered filing her first Cannabis story in 2015 to snickers across the newsroom, but reporter Sarah Parvini remarked on a major shift in the newsroom, and now editors hound her for her next cannabis story. Tschorn shared an anecdote that his first time covering the industry was in 2016 with the launch of Marley Naturals, which he filed with a photo of cannabis flower that was not approved for print. Less than one year later, a photo of a bowl of cannabis ran on the front page of the paper.

2.   The Field is Wide Open

When asked to share “big names” in the industry that people should follow, the Marley family and Snoop Dog were mentioned and Cheech & Chong were evoked multiple times throughout the talk. In addition to these high-profile celebrity entrants to the market, Abcarian urged those in attendance to learn about the activists who have fought for legalization for decades included Jack Here and Dennis Peron, who passed away earlier this year. Evan Halper, a national reporter based in Washington D.C. called out John Boehner and former California Attorney General Bill Lockyear who have both recently joined the boards of Cannabis companies. The overall sense was that there are not a lot of household names yet in the industry.

3.   What’s Next: Focus on Re- or De-Scheduling Cannabis at the Federal Level

When asked about the next major topic reporters expect to cover once they finish untangling what Abcarian called the “big fat mess” that is California’s cannabis regulations, Halper was adamant: the key is re-scheduling Cannabis at the federal level from its current designation as a schedule I drug. He noted that the schedule I designation, shared by heroin and GHB, doesn’t allow the rigorous FDA testing that is needed to create uniform standards for the industry.

4.  More Accountability is Needed to Ensure Social Equity

After an audience member asked about social equity programs in the industry, all the panelists agreed that they plan to hold elected officials and government agencies accountable to the promises they have made regarding de-criminalization and access to the industry for those that have been victims of the government’s war on drugs. Abcarian attended a panel recently held by Eaze, an app-based delivery service from San Francisco that recently began operating in Los Angeles, where panelists framed the issue in terms of reparations, which she noted was an effective message from her perspective. 

From exploring an illegal grow operation under the 10 Freeway in Downtown L.A. to attending the Emerald Cup, one thing all the reporters agreed on was that covering the “weed beat” is anything but boring.


Andrew Freeman is an Account Supervisor at Bond Moroch.