Members of the medical marijuana industry frequently cringe at the way their community is portrayed in the mainstream media, and that's led to the development of homegrown news operations intended to provide a more accurate portrait of the issue.
A prime example of this literally grassroots movement: Angela Macdonald of ReeferReport.com, a local medical marijuana patient on an informational mission. "I'm very active in educating people about medical marijuana laws in Colorado and all over the country -- just trying to help people understand what's happening around them," she says. It all started by accident -- literally.
Macdonald has a media background, having previously specialized in broadcast origination and production for Comcast. But then, in 2004, everything changed.
"I used to snowboard a lot, and one day, early in the season, I was just going too fast," she recalls. I hit some ice going off a jump and landed very poorly.
"It wasn't as if I broke every bone in my body," she concedes. "I just broke my leg. It seemed so minor."
Wrong. Macdonald's broken tibia was compounded by a broken ankle that went undiagnosed for six months. The result, she says, was "reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which is also referred to as CRPS, or chronic regional pain syndrome. Basically, there's no cure for it. It's something you have for the rest of your life unless you're lucky and it goes into remission."
Hers hasn't. "Sometimes it gets worse, and it sometimes it gets better. Sometimes I'm laid up in bed for a month at a time, and sometimes I'm fine, which makes it difficult for people to understand when they see me. And that goes on with a lot of people getting permits. There's all this judgment -- like, 'You're nineteen. Why do you need a permit?' But that person might have epilepsy or cancer. And you can't always tell that just by looking at them."
For Macdonald, her assorted conditions following the accident, including blood clots in her lung, were compounded by the heavy pharmaceuticals she was given to treat them. She blames the drugs as much as the injuries she sustained for her eventual loss of the Comcast job.
Three years later, Macdonald was still on morphine. When she decided to kick the habit, the only way she could cope with the withdrawal symptoms was by using medical marijuana, which turned out to have other benefits. "I realized that it helped with the pain," she says.
The improvement in Macdonald's quality of life following this discovery spurred her to launch ReeferReport.com in October 2008. Since then, she's put together dozens of news pieces about events in Colorado and beyond; her YouTube channel features everything from detailed analysis of legislative actions in states like New Jersey to cooking segments. And while her audience is fairly modest in size -- most of the clips have racked up views in the hundreds, not the thousands -- she says those she communicates with appreciate her tone, which eschews a hey-dude attitude.
"I see a lot of the mainstream media using words to emphasize the glamor behind marijuana, using words like 'pot' and 'weed,'" she notes. "Those are not the words we use in the medical marijuana community. In fact, some people even have issues with the word 'marijuana;' they prefer cannabis."
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The main point, to her, "is that this is medicine, and we should speak about it in that kind of language. Talking about it that way promotes a certain air of responsibility on behalf of people, and lets them know that this isn't like some recreational drug college students use: 'Let's sit around a smoke a bong.' This is very serious, and I take it very seriously."
Today, Macdonald attends the University of Denver, where she's pursuing a Masters degree in organizational professional communication with an emphasis on alternative dispute resolution. (She earned her Bachelors from DU with honors.) What free time she has is devoted to ReeferReport.com, which has turned into a pricey enterprise. "I'm trying to get some sponsorship for the show, because it's draining my finances," she admits. "I just placed an ad on Craigslist offering to barter video production for my medicine. It's very expensive."
She expects to see more web-news competition in the marijuana-news field as time goes on: "I'm sure there will be a ton of production companies popping up specializing in this area," she says. But few will have Macdonald's passion for the topic, which has been fired by personal experience.
"I see these politicians getting a lot of media attention for standing up against medical marijuana," she says, "and people in the community are getting angry about it, because the politicians aren't considering the whole scenario. This shouldn't be some political game. These are people's lives."