Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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10 business of marijuana story angles you can localize

June 16, 2016

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Do you report in an area where recreational or medical pot has been legalized by the state?

Ricardo Baca, The Denver Post’s first marijuana editor and founder/editor of The Cannabist, does.

Baca co-presented a session on “Covering the Business of Pot” for Society of American Business Editors and Writers 2016 conference attendees. Kevin Dale, executive editor of Cronkite News at Arizona PBS, a multiplatform daily news operation and innovation hub operated by the Cronkite School, presented alongside Baca.

The two gave business journalists 10 story ideas for covering the business of pot that you can localize:

Consumer Product Labeling

Baca relayed a story of receiving a tip from a consumer who felt she had been cheated by the dosage advertised in a marijuana edible. He followed up on the tip and discovered she was not alone. Local stores told Baca that many consumers had returned the same product. The tip led to The Cannabist enlisting labs to do extensive testing of edibles, which they found to be far from their advertised potency. Look into potency standards and labeling requirements in your area and test products against them.

Revenues & Sales Tax Receipts

If marijuana is a licensed business in your state, month-by-month sales and tax statistics and records on the industry should be available from your state department of revenue.

Entrepreneurs

Pot is an emerging business sector. Who’s jumping in? What are the demographics of the individuals who own the stores, cultivation facilities and processing plants in your area? Are they diverse, or do certain ages, ethnicities or genders dominate? Are former black-market barons going legit? Is the industry creating new titans of business you can profile?

Banking

The U.S. government does not recognize the legality of state-legalized marijuana businesses. And in general, the federal government expects banks to know where their customers’ money comes from. If it’s from illegal activity, the federal government can seize those funds. So banks are understandably wary of enabling those in the marijuana industry to bank at their institutions. According to Marijuana Business Daily, only 40% of cannabis businesses have a bank account. While some banks and credit unions have begun to cater to the industry, their costs to comply with regulation can be high. Often those costs are passed on to pot-industry customers for banking services. Other businesses are emerging to help the marijuana industry transact business. Find out how pot businesses without access to banking are financing growth, conducting transactions, securing revenues and paying taxes in a mostly cash industry. Here’s one story that may inspire you from businessjournalism.org contributor and AP reporter Kristena Hansen.

Real Estate & Natural Resources

As demand for pot grows, industrial real estate is needed for indoor cultivation. And those growing facilities need natural resources such as electricity, water and more in large supply. Ask experts what effect that has had on commercial real estate prices and natural resources in your area.

Public Safety, Recalls and Lost Profits

Baca and Dale recalled one instance in which pesticides were found in pot. Find out what agency initiates recalls in such cases, and how that affect a nascent industry’s profits, as well as public health?

Poverty

Because of restrictions on where pot facilities can be located, they often wind up in low-income neighborhoods. Investigate how these communities are affected.

Prosperity

In Colorado, counties had the choice to decide whether to allow legal weed sales. If this is the case in your state, you can compare the relative prosperity of counties who did and didn’t allow sales of the drug and how those that did are utilizing their tax revenues.

Health

The names of doctors who prescribe medical marijuana may be a matter of public record. If so, you can investigate the corner of the industry that profits from prescriptions.

Interstate Commerce

Interstate commerce is not yet a reality in the pot industry. Dig deeper into what that means for the businesses in this sector.

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