By Van Smith
Baltimore, Jan. 8, 2019
About eight years ago, as I was hustling to nail down all the details involved in the fast-moving story of Reptilian Records’ owner Chris X pleading guilty to drug dealing in Baltimore City, I realized something crucial: on a handful of occasions years earlier, I’d actually gone to Chris’ since-shuttered Fells Point store to buy some pot from him. I put that fact in the resulting City Paper story, a disclosure that generated attention from the Baltimore Sun, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, and Jim Romanesko, who published my explanation for doing so:
Journalistic reasons. Had to. No other options, given deadline, foreclosing possibility of someone else writing the piece instead, which would’ve been preferable. My long-ago interactions with the subject only dawned on me after I’d interviewed him and was writing up the part in which he poured out his guts and said he’d dealt weed for years. After giving it some thought, including trying to rationalize NOT disclosing, I realized there simply was no other way to deal with the situation. Disclosure was the only thing to do, and let the chips fall where they may – including, I suppose, a Romenesko mention. Believe me, I’m not as Gonzo as this may make me seem.
I went on to do what I’d being doing for years, and would continue to do for years more as a staff writer for City Paper in Baltimore: a frenzied mix of heavy lifting and light work, largely unpredictable in its direction and lacking in any traditional sense of “beat,” but generally fueled by my own curiousity about Baltimore, Maryland, and life. Duty often called, as well, and I would cover regularly local and state electoral and legislative politics.
Mostly, though, I was known as an investigative reporter, and that was true enough for a good, long stretch as CP‘s alt-weekly model matured in profitability and courage. But as time passed – Craigslist! the Great Recession! the Death of Print! – the job changed. The business of print journalism was increasingly imbued with fear, infecting the whole enterprise. I maintained an appearance of investigativeness while doing the best I could under the here-now-fast-and-furious circumstances, which dictated that clicks would save us all. Eventually, in 2015, having run the numbers – my take-home pay was only a bit more than it cost to have our children looked after – I quit.
I stopped buying illegal pot years ago because I’d come to understand that doing so injected my chump change into the shadow economy I covered as a journalist, and so was, at the very least, an appearance of a conflict of interest. Also, having become a risk-averse father, I simply wanted to stay out of the way of potential legal trouble. Now, in the era of medical marijuana, such concerns have disappeared in Maryland – lawful, state-regulated businesses sell it to certified users who, as long as they follow reasonable rules, are safe from prosecution.
The Maryland legal-weed business is a go, and it’ll get tweaked by that which birthed it: the Maryland General Assembly. For the 2019 session, at least, I’ll do my best to explain what’s being tweaked how, when, why, and by whom, while also keeping tabs on other possible pot-law developments that may arise and bumping the relevant work of others. I’m no lawyer, but I know a lot of them and I think many of them would agree: It’s better I do this than they. At the very least, I’ve proven myself adept at providing full disclosures.