Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson: Goal of ‘High Stakes’ was to educate on legal pot

Your eyes and ears. Your nose, as well.

Statehouse reporter Jordan Schrader traveled last month to Colorado — the only state ahead of Washington to legalize recreational marijuana — to give us a glimpse into our own future.

Whether you think legalization is good or bad, it’s coming, with the state’s first pot stores expected to open in June or July. But because we’re among the first to deal with its effects, we don’t really know how it will work or how people will react.

Schrader’s mission was to serve as readers’ eyes and ears, and show them and tell them what it’s like in Colorado, where pot stores opened Jan. 1. And yes, he captured the smells, as well.

In recent years, we’ve published hundreds of stories about marijuana legalization. We wrote about the pros and cons in advance of the state ballot vote in 2012. And since voters approved Initiative 502, we’ve covered boards, commissions and councils as they set taxes, established permitting processes and otherwise figured out how to regulate this new industry.

We’ve covered local government decisions about where to locate stores or, in some cases, to ban them. We’ve aired the opinions of people who think the rollout will be unremarkable and those who fear the repercussions.

But most of the stories were bureaucratic and speculative. We still didn’t know what it’s like to have a recreational pot store next door. What would it sell? Who would come in to buy? How would the neighbors react? How would children be protected from the products?

We didn’t know how a commercial grow operation would work. How would growers tag the plants? How would they secure the place? Who would work there?

And what would happen in communities that banned recreational stores? Would they drive residents back to the black market?

Schrader didn’t go to Colorado to pass judgment on all that. He went to take a look.

“Washington is about to embark on a huge experiment,” he said. “State government is not just allowing, but involving itself in the sale of a federally illegal product. It seemed worth going to the one place where that’s already happening for recreational marijuana, and one of the few places with a track record of doing it for medical marijuana.

“I wanted to know how this works in practice, who’s taking advantage and what the fallout has been.”

Photographer Kai-Huei Yau from the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick went with Schrader to shoot the photos and video. The four-day, multipage series “High Stakes” ran last week in both papers.

We also experimented with a new digital presentation for this package. I encourage you to check it out on your computer, smartphone or tablet.

For the first time, readers can scroll through all the stories in one place and encounter full-frame photos, videos and graphics as they read. The type is enlarged and clear. It’s a premium reader experience we intend to use again.

The online package garnered the second-highest readership of any story last week, behind only our coverage of the KOMO-TV helicopter crash.

As for reaction to marijuana coverage, several print readers contacted us to say we had overdone it. Many said they were against legalization and saw our extensive coverage as promoting pot.

A few threatened to quit their subscriptions if we published one more marijuana story.

“As far as I’m concerned it looks like The News Tribune has been promoting selling pot,” one reader said, “and now they’re putting it in candies and cookies, and it’s just going to ruin society.”

Another comment on Facebook read: “What’s with all the pot articles? Are you promoting a stoned Tacoma?”

No, the newsroom is not promoting the legalization and sale of recreational marijuana. But we do intend to inform our readers about it.

We hope the “High Stakes” series helped do that.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434