Going to Pot: L.A. Weekly’s Journalistic Standards? 

Wednesday, Dec 2 2009

Duuuude! Our cover story last week on medical-marijuana outlets (“Medical-Weed Wars: How the potheads outwitted Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council,” by Patrick Range McDonald and Christine Pelisek, Nov. 27) has received more than 100 comments. Readers tend to come down on either side of the issue: The Weekly is spot-on, or we’re dead wrong. Noel Weiss from Marina del Rey is in the former camp: “One great job of reporting by all of you. ... Another significant example of what happens when there is a complete and utter lack of openness, transparency and any real thoughtfulness by the City Council.”

And here’s EagleRock from — you guessed it — Eagle Rock: “Great reporting, L.A. Weekly! You know you’ve hit the truth nerve when the potheads start calling you names. Keep up the great work!”

Oh, yeah, did we mention that the potheads — or their supporters at any rate — are calling us names? “You idiots!” for one. Unprintable, for another. But for the most part, civility wins out — though that’s not to say everyone is happy. “All I can say is this article is pure garbage,” writes Mickey Martin of the Medical Cannabis Safety Council in the 510 area code. “I thought the days of the penny-press sensational, gossipy journalism were over, but you have proven me wrong. The sad part is that you hide behind the guise of being a legitimate media outlet, when you are the equivalent of the National Enquirer without all of the trouble of being national. Stick to writing horoscopes and music reviews. That may be the most honest journalism you do.”

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(Sorry to say, we no longer do horoscopes. But at least we’re honest about it.)

And then there are the tongue-in-cheek comments, always (read: occasionally) entertaining. “Wow, what an eye-opener!” says Josh H. Pille from Los Angeles. “I had no idea until I read the article that Eric Garcetti is profiting from medical marijuana or that convicted drug dealer Don Duncan is on the city’s payroll! What a sucker I was for voting for safe access only to find out that ‘young men’ — long since proven to not suffer from medical problems — are buying dope. Or to find that politics — politics! — is practiced at City Hall. But I can rest easier knowing the Weekly is on the case, with its steady, reliable, even coverage and its high journalistic ethics. Next week: The council can just resign and let the Weekly do the budgeting!”

Thanks, Josh. Does that mean we get their paychecks, too?

Last week, we asked for a few good letters, signed with full names and phone numbers. And we did get a few — more balanced and thoughtful than most comments, but not uncritical. Here’s one (edited) from Vince Beiser of Los Angeles: “I was astonished to read so much careful, thorough reporting served up alongside such hysterical, unproven allegations. Pelisek and McDonald did an admirable job of documenting the details of how our feckless City Council has lost control of L.A.’s proliferating pot shops, and muster a lot of evidence to support the conventional wisdom that most of those shops’ customers are not medically ill patients but garden-variety stoners.

“But the reporters leap from those carefully collected facts into pure hype about how pot shops are breeding crime. Not one of these scary-sounding claims is backed up with a single statistic.

“Crime stats are easy to gather — you can find them mapped block-by-block on the LAPD’s Web site. But Pelisek and McDonald seem not to have bothered to see whether there’s any basis for the complaints of cops and neighborhood gadflies. If they had, their story might have lost a lot of its urgency.

“Here’s the bottom line: People have been buying and selling marijuana in this city for much of the last century. It’s a huge business that has until recently been entirely illegal, and as a result has been a moneymaker for gangs and spawned a fair bit of concomitant crime. The real issue is whether making some small part of that business quasilegal in the form of marijuana dispensaries has made things worse. It’s possible that’s the case, but I very much doubt it. And there’s certainly nothing in this article to convince me.”

Well said, Vince, but look, here’s the thing: As the Weekly has reported in earlier stories, former police chief Bill Bratton ordered an extensive survey of crime statistics in and around pot dispensaries and found spikes in crime related specifically to the outlets. When [LAPD Chief Charlie] Beck offered the remarks quoted in last week’s story, he was referring to Bratton’s survey. As for your argument about the amount of pot sold here ... as the story pointed out, drug-enforcement authorities have found a sudden, fourfold increase in tonnage of pot confiscated in areas around Los Angeles this year over last year. Why the increase? Because demand for pot has risen in Los Angeles.

And now, good-bye to all that. You can view the 100-plus comments (and the article) online. You may want to light one up while you’re at it.

Jonathan Gold, that is — whose review of Bistro LQ brought these two short, but meaningful, comments. “Wow, almost descriptive enough to turn me into a vegan!” says Fred T. from Santa Susana, who is joined in food-writing heaven by P.T. from El Segundo: “I don’t know about the food ... but that’s one damn fine piece of writing!”

Finally, this rather mysterious little missive in response to Christopher Miles’ positive review of Jeff Koons’ show at Gagosian Gallery (Nov. 24): “u fcking cnt.” Signed, Jeff from L.A.

The Weekly invites comments from readers. We prefer letters that are signed and include a phone number for verification. Write to us at readerswrite@laweekly.com.

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