Talking Shop: Finding the Facts with Journalist Angela Bacca
Angela Bacca is a freelance journalist responsible for more cannabis-centric publications and viral articles than most writers combined. Originally from California, Bacca’s foray into the cannabis industry began with an introduction from her former teacher and later colleague, Ed Rosenthal. She later solidified her relationship with the plant when she began using cannabis medically to treat the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. After reaching out to her through our social media accounts, Bacca agreed to sit down and discuss what it means to be a journalist focusing on the cannabis industry as well as some of the cannabis industry’s biggest stories.
Author – Max Richardson-Davis & Angela Bacca
Edited by Noah Persin & Jon Russell
Maxwell Davis, GreenSea Distribution: Nice to meet you, Angela. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. I appreciate it. For those who may be unfamiliar with you and your work, would you briefly introduce yourself?
Angela Bacca, freelance cannabis journalist: I am a freelance journalist and book editor focused mainly on cannabis—all aspects of it, the cultural, horticultural, medical, business and policy. I have been writing and editing cannabis content for almost 10 years and was the editor of Ed Rosenthal’s Marijuana Grower’s Handbook (2010), among other titles, the co-founder and managing editor of Ladybud Magazine when it started in 2013 and Editor-in-Chief of Cannabis Now Magazine. Now I am 100% freelance.
I wrote about medical cannabis in the Bay Area while working as the Opinions Editor at the San Francisco State University [X]press. After I graduated, I got my first job in publishing as the editorial assistant to Ed Rosenthal. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but he has and continues to have a huge influence over my work and activism—he has inspired me to speak truth to power and fight back in impactful ways.
Maxwell: That sounds like quite the career in cannabis journalism. When did you decide to pursue journalism as a career? What initially inspired you to get into it?
Angela: I have always been a reader and consumer of news. When I was a kid I actually enjoyed watching news on the television as well as reading newspapers whenever I could. I wasn’t initially going to get into journalism—I went to college to study International Relations before moving into photojournalism and then being pushed by both my photography and writing professors towards editorial.
Maxwell: You have covered the topic of cannabis extensively in your writing. Tell me, how do you feel the mainstream media portrays cannabis?
Angela: With what is happening politically right now, here in the United States and abroad, I have been talking about this topic quite a bit. First, there is no such thing as non-biased journalism—period. The writer chooses what quotes to use and in what order to convey information; there is no way not to imply their own bias. Second, I think we tend to conflate non-biased journalism with giving equal weight to opinions, and that is a huge problem in our media now—much of it is emotionally driven and opinion-based rather than based in fact.
So when it comes to writing about cannabis, I feel it is a disservice to the public to give equal weight to those whose opinions aren’t based in actual science, history and human use. The opposition is largely based on greed and fueled by hysteria. The mainstream media does a disservice to the public by repeating propaganda from prohibitionists, rather than talking to actual researchers, patients and medical professional who work with it every day and deal in facts. Journalists are supposed to question everything, and if they do their research and due diligence they will absolutely have an opinion on it and that will be clear in the writing no matter how hard they try to be “non-biased”.
I do think a lot more mainstream outlets are getting better, but that is only because they have been pushed by the public and independent journalists like myself.
Maxwell: Do you think the mainstream portrayal of cannabis affects the public opinion of the plant? If so, how? What effects do you think this has had on the industry?
Angela: Absolutely. The mainstream portrayal, now, is largely about money. There are so many people I have met in the last 2-3 years who have dollar signs in their eyes and do some pretty reckless and irresponsible things in pursuit of quick riches. On one hand, it has turned a lot more of the public to its favor, but on the other hand, we are forgetting what we are really fighting for. Legalization, to me, is not about feeding states more money or creating corporate welfare schemes, it should be about freeing prisoners, providing relief to those who are suffering, repealing the criminality and allowing average low to middle class Americans an opportunity to prosper.
I began working in the industry during the George W. Bush years. There were no Wall Street financiers or mega grows, but lots of smaller “mom and pops” who, if they worked hard enough and had a good product, were able to rise—but at a serious risk to their families and livelihoods. They didn’t become millionaires but they were able to support their families by working for themselves. When Obama took office and his administration signaled they would not enforce federal law in states that had voted for medical cannabis, the rat race began.
And, there are a lot of rats out there right now, but what they tend to forget is that cannabis is a plant, people can grow it and it sells itself—it doesn’t need your ego or personality to be popular. If they regulate it to death, it will flourish again on black markets.
Maxwell: That’s an interesting point. What are your thoughts on the word “marijuana” compared against the word “cannabis”? Do you prefer using one over the other? I know many in the industry, myself included, feel as if marijuana is a Reefer Madness leftover, created and used to discriminate against those who use the product, its users and those who work within the industry.
Angela: I have taken to using the scientific name: cannabis. The word “marijuana” has evolved to take on new cultural significance, beyond its racist roots. I sometimes find myself calling it marijuana, but only when I am with friends I smoked with when I was younger who are less educated about it. I still call it “weed” a lot too, it’s a slangy thing that doesn’t seem to be fading from my vocabulary.
Maxwell: That makes sense. I find myself in agreeance with your point on marijuana. Tell me, as a journalist, what has been your most profound experience as a cannabis journalist over the course of your career?
Angela: I have been politically active in red states since about 2010 when Ed Rosenthal and I infiltrated Missouri (long story). My husband and I both have family in Utah and I ended up living there for about a year and a half while he finished his master’s degree (we both have MBAs).
I have Crohn’s Disease, so I will always use cannabis no matter where I am. I spent my time in Utah working and traveling back and forth from the San Francisco Bay Area, or other neighboring legal states (Utah is pretty surrounded), smuggling my medicine in. While I was there I met other patients and I started smuggling for them too. I am a native Californian and I was just 10-years-old when Prop 215 passed, so beyond the initial cultural shock of Utah, I was horrified to see how patients were suffering under prohibition.
In 2015 I met Utah state Senator Mark Benson Madsen. Madsen is the grandson of Ezra Taft Benson (the president and prophet of the Mormon church in the 1980s and 1990s). He is a well-respected Libertarian-Republican in Utah. A friend introduced me to him right before he made history by putting up Utah’s first real whole-plant medical cannabis bill. (Here is the full story of how that went down).
We decided early on that I couldn’t be too public—I am from California (a dirty word at the Utah capitol), affiliated with known “legalizers” and a huge supporter of the LGBTQ community. This is all known and very public. I sat inside Madsen’s office, within the chambers of the Republican Utah State Senate, and helped draft the entire narrative coming from our side. I secured a donation for a poll that showed more than 2/3 of the state—including Mormons, Republicans and senior citizens—were in full support of Madsen’s legislation. I also fed the “Reefer Addicted Rabbits” story to the international media, which still has those of us who worked on it laughing to this day.
Madsen, however, is an honest man who stands on his morals—he is a rare politician (who is now retired from the state legislature). He himself was also a patient and he refused to let all the patients he was fighting for down by conceding to the profiteers and extremists in the senate who were demanding he take away the whole-plant option. He said no, and he said no the next year, which is why the state legislature in Utah has continued to fail its citizens. It’s beyond greed, it’s criminal, but I am proud to have worked in support of this incredible man.
I don’t feel we failed, I feel like we pushed the truth out in places it was going to be suppressed forever and I believe we will, eventually, stop torturing sick people like myself in the name of pharmaceutical profits.
Maxwell: That is certainly an incredible story. I would I have never assumed a mormon republican senator would be a medical cannabis patient, but for some reason, it truly inspires me. I too suffer from Crohn’s Disease and understand the pain associated with the disease. You certainly need some level of stable medication to survive its daily implications. Now, moving right along, if there is anything you could tell the journalists of the world in regards to cannabis, what would it be?
Angela: Don’t write about it until you try it. Really. Would you trust a food writer who doesn’t eat the food? And, if you are like Maureen O’Dowd at the New York Times, be a good journalist and do your research first.
Maxwell: In your opinion, what is the most pertinent issue facing the cannabis industry today?
Maxwell: Ha, blunt, but I see your point. Tell me, in your opinion, what are the most pertinent issues facing cannabis entrepreneurs today?
Angela: In early 2014, just one month after Colorado legalized marijuana sales, I attended an Arcview investor meeting in Las Vegas. First, I was horrified; I was one of only about two women in the room who were not working the event. Most of the men were old and white, there were a lot of politicians there as well proudly claiming they were excited to end the Drug War.
Then, they opened the meeting by reminding everyone not to invest in the plant itself but instead to put their money in legal “ancillary businesses” like software, packaging, paraphernalia. They paraded out a ton of companies hawking seed-to-sale software and legally compliant packaging. Now, in places like Oregon and Washington, we have some pretty awful laws that require these things but create a ton of ecological waste and business inefficiencies. I often think the investment came before the regulation in a lot of places and the legislation has been intentionally tumultuous—which prices out smaller businesses in favor of larger ones. And, these are some of the same people who made money off its illegality. I think most consumers are just so excited about legalization they don’t care, but I do and I am watching closely.
Maxwell: In response, what role do grassroots media organizations and freelance journalists like yourself play in contemporary media?
Angela: I have written a ton of articles on smaller independent outlets that get picked up by the mainstream and regurgitated over and over. In essence, this crafts the narrative they will pick up and I am proud of being the seed if not the bloom.
Maxwell: What’s the absolute strangest story you’ve covered in relation to the cannabis industry?
Angela: Unfortunately I can’t think of anything “strange” but I am not a good arbiter of what is “normal” because I have been so deep in this now for so long.
Maxwell: Ha! That’s probably a better answer than a real story. As a cannabis journalist myself, you know I have to ask, would you ever share a joint with somebody you’ve written about or interviewed? If so, who and what strain would you smoke?
Angela: Would I? I do all the time. It, of course, depends on who I am interviewing and why. I am a professional, but just like journalists will conduct an interview over cocktails to loosen them up, I am happy to smoke or dab with people when appropriate. Over the years I have smoked with a lot of really fascinating people, not going to name names but it can totally be assumed that I have smoked with most of the people who have been in this industry for more than the last three years.
Also, I am not too discerning on strains (here is why), but I won’t smoke something that is low quality, it just isn’t worth it to me. I am a bit of a pot snob these days and prefer a good clean resin. I do, however, love the strain J-27, which was selected by Ed Rosenthal and Jack Herer in the 1970s and is grown exclusively by my California caregiver, North Coast Cultivators.
Maxwell: That’s awesome. One of these days, we’ll have to get together and share a joint! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Angela. I appreciate all of your insight. I look forward to reading more of your articles as they arrive. As always, you have the last word. Thanks for being our guest, Angela.
Angela: Thank you!