The debate in states that are looking to start a medical marijuana program often includes the revenue that a program would add to the state’s budget. While medical marijuana’s revenue is open to debate, one industry that has been helped out by the medical marijuana movement is the weekly newspapers in medical marijuana states. Local newspapers that have been declining in popularity have led many new media outlets declaring the newspaper in it’s old fashioned print form version is a dying breed. Papers trying to cope with the recession and the flight of advertising dollars, especially classified listings that are now free on services online such as craigslist have been laying off workers, or worse yet, folding under the weight of new pressures from online media sources. But some communities that have embraced medical marijuana are seeing a boon to local newspapers that have been recently stuffed with marijuana ads, smokers’ product reviews and inserts devoted to canna-businesses.
What began cautiously in alternative weekly newspapers, long known for their embrace of more controversial ad dollars, has spread to publications like the Denver Post and the Bozeman Chronicle. The Colorado Springs Independent’s issue last week had a large, glossy and expensive pullout supplement devoted to medical marijuana. Alternative weeklies are now regularly publishing the ads along with smokers’ product reviews, pro-medical marijuana articles and even studies showing the postive effects of legalization. The shrinking market for real estate ads has been replaced not only by ads for medical marijuana providers, but ads for services that have sprouted up around the medical cannabis industry, like tax lawyers, security specialists, financial advisors and specialized real estate agents. Most of these new enterprises are flush with cash and eager to get the word out about their businesses. John Weiss, the founder and publisher of The Independent, a free weekly says that this wasn’t anticipated in their marketing plan a year ago, but now makes up 10 percent of their paper’s revenue. Scott Tobias, president and chief operating officer of Village Voice Media that publishes alternative weeklies across the country says it is one of the fastest growing industries he has ever seen come in.
Money from advertising for marijuana-related businesses has totaled 15 percent of Colorado’s Westword’s revenue this year and nearly 40 percent of its classified advertising revenue. A small, eighth-page display ad on one of the paper’s glossy inside pages can cost $550. In an industry that has had to report on their own demise with almost monthly updates of staff layoffs and newspaper downsizing, newspapers like, The Independent has hired a new staff member devoted to the genre and promoted three of its employees to full time status. Newspaper publishers saw an opening for medical marijuana advertising after the Obama administration said last fall that it would not prosecute users and suppliers of medical marijuana as long as they complied with state laws. That decision has freed more people to market and sell cannabis as a medical product, and perhaps saved a few print newspapers as well.