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Seeking enlightenment in Denver / by Ariel Shearer

I thought medical marijuana could save the Phoenix. The Sacramento News & Review, an alt weekly in California, expanded circulation and hired new staffers when they started running weed advertisements. The Colorado Springs Independent, another weekly paper, began publishing a marijuana ad supplement and started promoting their staffers. Even some of the smarter dailies like the Denver Post now run weed ads.

Any print publication unwilling to participate is part of the problem(s).

It seems like alt papers in places where marijuana is medically legal stand a better chance at surviving than those weeklies in states without the cannabusiness. And it seems like people living in places where marijuana is legal stand a better chance of feeling good -- or at least a better chance of being in the right place at the right time.

I arrived in legal weed land on a rainy afternoon. The bus ride from Denver International Airport into the city proper gave me just enough time to process how I wound up in the Mile High, and write questions for the dispensary operator I was on my way to interview. I came to Denver to see if the grass was really greener; to visit these dispensaries and seek journalistic enlightenment at this year's National Conference for Media Reform.

The Phoenix had died a few weeks earlier, puncturing my identity. The stress of joblessness in America caused me to shed my sense of purpose like snake skin. I’ve held a job since age 14, and only started working for a career in recent years.

It still makes me ache when I think of my shiny new marijuana column never knowing a Massachusetts with dispensaries.

I felt like I couldn’t write without knowing a story had a home, and the fact I felt that freaked me out and made me feel dependent. Because everything I did gave me a new story idea. They were all Phoenix stories, naturally, as I’d been living waking life as a perpetual hunt for Phoenix stories since before I even found the Phoenix.

It took a bit of staring at mountains to conclude that all stories are Phoenix stories. All stories are Fox stories. It’s the people telling the stories -- sources same as reporters -- that make the news seem different.

Like they say about the moon, "it's all dark, really..."

So I flew to Denver in search of a light source to illuminate my journalistic life force -- that cheesy magical subconscious nagging that inspired me to manifest my job in the first place. I found it in different senses: the scent of marijuana grow facilities and the sound of Amy Goodman's voice.

"This is no longer a mainstream media, it's an extreme media beating the drums for war," is what Amy said of corporate media, while delivering her keynote speech at this year's National Conference for Media Reform. She's talking about the military industrial complex -- but if you think about Big Pharma and medical advertising, those hypnotic TV ads with deadly side effects make this statement applicable to the drug war.

Panel discussions at NCMR were telling and sometimes inspiring -- like the sessions about Black Girls Code teaching young women valuable tech skills, and the Solutions Journalism session that had me feeling like I'd slid into a warm bath after shoveling snow for too long.

But NCMR's meeting of the liberal minds was more concerned with social media and virility than narrative storytelling or the historical significance of print journalism. I refuse to believe this is a world where these values should be treated like they're mutually exclusive. I mean, technically, digital written content doesn't even exist. The ability to read it depends on a static physical device. Without the device, there is no story.

So I guess that means I'll have to print this up and mail it to my grandma like I did when my stories ran in a magazine. She's almost 90 years old and loves newspapers as much as I do. She cuts out happy stories and mails them to me -- like one about a bear who breaks into a candy shop and steals chocolate.

But too often she's distraught about some headline to which I've already been desensitized. There's no happy medium -- it's either chaos or fluff.

Except, of course, when you consider the weed beat.

Imagine: The first day you buy cannabis from someone other than a criminal; the first day you buy medicine from somewhere other than a pharmacy.

People may not have the Federal government's endorsement while pursing this means of alternative medicine, lifestyle, career choice, concept of reality. But journalists have the ability to help create a space in which state's rights are respected, patients' rights are respected, popular opinion, popular vote -- is respected. We can help create a dialogue about a natural resource apparently capable of curing cancer.

Medical communities act as if there's no research; many doctors aren't willing to risk their license to write a script. But as long as there are people out there risking freedom to get sick people their [alternative] medicine, alternative publications that choose to advertise for marijuana providers will be making history.

And possibly curing cancer, considering that there's a special hemp oil known for anti-cancer properties. It's called "Phoenix Tears."

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