Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Will reporters have to stay pot-free in Colorado? Not at Westword

The query came from Jim Romensko, who covers media across the country: "Hi Patti, I'm checking to see how Colorado news outlets are responding to the relaxed marijuana law. Have you screened new hires in the past? If so, will you hire journalists who smoke marijuana on their own time and, thus, 'fail' the drug test? Thanks. Jim."

At Westword , where we have the country's first medical-marijuana critic on staff, the question was laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, critic William Breathes reports that's just what he did when I forwarded it to him.

But there's nothing funny about the question of whether medical-marijuana patients can be punished by their workplace for using pot -- off the job or on in Colorado, where a paralyzed DISH service rep was fired for a positive drug test. And now the issue will get even stickier.

Here's Romensko's piece on reporters and pot use:

Will Colorado and Washington news organizations hire pot smokers? Letter to Romenesko

A READER WRITES: Was wondering if you could offer insight or question the industry's approach to piss tests as they relate to pot in light of the approved measures in Colorado and Washington state?

Is a positive pot result a deal breaker these days?

I wonder how the news media in those states will handle it and what, if any, the ripple effect will be.

To be clear, I'd like to keep my name out of it and also any info that could ID me or the paper I work for now.

Seattle Times spokesperson Jill Mackie tells me: "Our policy is not changing. ...Our existing policy expects our employees to be free of alcohol and any other drug while at work." What if an employee enjoys a joint after work? "I can't speak to the details of how that's going to change," she says.

At the Denver Post, "we haven't decided yet" whether to change the screening policy now that marijuana use is legal in Colorado, says HR assistant Cindy Uribe.

"We've never drug tested," says Westword publisher Patricia Calhoun. "And we have reporters -- including our pot critic -- who smoke marijuana on the job. Oh, and we're currently doing a series of blog posts in which the writers get stoned with local artists and musicians."

I'm checking with other news organizations and will update this post. I invite journalists from Washington and Colorado to post their policies in comments.

In case you've missed our getting stoned series, the pieces are running on Show and Tell and Backbeat, our arts and music blogs. Find them here. From our archives: "William Breathes looks back on three years as the country's first pot critic."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun