Marijuana Reporter/Social Media Editor, The Seattle Times
You’ll not find a pot pun at the head of this blog. Evan Bush will be relieved to know it.
That’s not to say that writing about marijuana for The Seattle Times doesn’t have its waggish moments. You think it’s awkward explaining “conflict of interest” to a source offering a cup of coffee? Imagine the freebies cast before a marijuana reporter.
But if he sees one more silly word play — Weed Whackers, Going to Pot, Hail (Mary) Jane, Doobious Connection — Bush might just have to pen a manifesto on pot coverage.
All jokes aside, covering the legal pot industry is cold-sober business.
“Yes, this can be a fun subject,” Bush said, “but it’s serious policy, too.”
The 2014 Kiplinger Fellow stepped in as the Times’ marijuana reporter last May after colleague Bob Young accepted a one-year fellowship. Bush is the Times’ third reporter on the beat, covering the culture, business and politics surrounding recreational marijuana, which was legalized in Washington in 2012.
“Legalization has formed new policy, birthed an industry and opened a door into some pretty fascinating science,” he said. “Plus, this world is filled with characters many mainstream audiences haven’t met yet — or met in an entirely different context and circumstances.”
Washingtonians have become accustomed to a steady staple of marijuana stories in the news. (Bush has a backlog of 10 articles he’s working on now.) Recent articles include breakdowns on how pot tax revenue will be spent and tighter oversight on medical-use marijuana.
But as a handful of states become petri dishes for legalized drug law, Bush’s and others’ reporting is attracting national scrutiny.
“People outside of Washington have a hard time wrapping their heads around it . . . It’s a curiosity and novelty for them — a strange experiment in another land that they’re curious about.
“Washington’s putting on one hell of an experiment,” he said. “In my job, I need to examine, test and probe this policy so the nation gets an accurate, even-handed look at how things are working.”
For a majority of U.S. news outlets, marijuana falls under the purview of crime reporters. In Washington and Colorado, which also legalized pot in 2014, reporters must be policy wonks, reinterpreting the story as the law shifts and consequences arise.
“The story is starting to be: Does society benefit from the legalization of marijuana? What are the harms? How do we weigh those harms and benefits?” he said.
A lot remains unsettled. His readership’s opinions about marijuana fall up and down the scale. Even though pot is legal, sources are skittish about being associated with it, Bush said. No one can agree even what to call the substance. Some think “pot” is too informal; some believe “marijuana” carries pejorative connotations and shouldn’t be used.
“I find the word cannabis can be stodgy (and not entirely accurate because it refers to the entire plant),” Bush said. “This is a controversy we can’t settle.
“All of the confusion on this subject makes for a lot of misinformation. Everyone has a different view of reality in the marijuana world. Some people seize on the confusion and can be pretty manipulative. It can take me a long time to get to the truth when working on a story.”
The Texas native became a social media editor for The Times in 2013. His digital expertise has informed his reporting; he uses Twitter to follow pot policy in other states and to spot pot shop openings. He recently used Periscope to livestream a tour of a cannabis grow in Seattle’s SoDo district.
“Tech is crucial to what I do and always will be,” he said.
Bush will step back into his position as social media editor for the newspaper in June. He also is transitioning into a role producing web-exclusive material.
“I’ll write pot stories here and there and spend more time working on digital reporting projects,” he said.
Then, he’ll be less likely to find cannabis fragments on the cardigan sweater he sometimes wears on assignment. (“I looked like Mr. Rogers meets Cheech and Chong.”) But his work will be no less rewarding.