Ricardo Baca is a prolific veteran journalist and considered the first modern weed news editor (outside of the old High Times school). He was an editor at The Denver Post where he ran The Cannabist for over three years. Baca's place “at ground zero of the green rush” was the subject of the 2015 documentary Rolling Papers. Today, he's the CEO and founder of Grasslands, a cannabis PR company dedicated to championing journalism while helping cannabis brands tell their stories.
In the eye of the media storm
For Baca, it's been nothing short of a “tremendous honor” to witness the historic trajectory of cannabis over the last decade so intimately.
The breaking point came in 2014, Baca told Weedmaps, when the unspoken battle still raged between cannabis advocacy media and the mainstream coverage that still parroted outdated narratives from the federal government and the war on drugs. “That's when we saw this tipping point where the work of a lot of our predecessors, people like David Downs and Ed Rosenthal, writers and journalists who had previously done legitimate cannabis journalism from a modern educated perspective, then being able to build upon what they did.”
When Baca came on to the scene in 2013, the understanding was clear that the advocacy media that had kept cannabis coverage afloat up to that point wouldn't cut it as the legal cannabis beat became a reality. “To be able to create real journalism and continue in that vein from those who came before me, and to take it to the next level with the help of a very large community, and to really change how the media covers cannabis, that has been the most tremendous honor to witness that expansion.”
Though Baca admits that his role shifting from advocacy media to mainstream cannabis journalism wasn't something he thought of in the moment, at least, not initially.
“We didn't know what we were doing at the time, we were just trained journalists covering this new beat that was newly legal, and we didn't recognize the weight of that.”
Baca continued, “Then of course, years later, especially after leaving newspapers, I recognized that what my colleagues and I did was really monolithic. David Downs and other people were out there creating legitimate journalism that held the powerful accountable, both the brands and the regulators, both sides of the equation, the prohibitionists and the advocates for legalization. But what we did was we just brought it to a different level, and got so much attention for bringing traditional journalism to an industry that desperately needed it.”
Honoring weed journalism
Having played a major role in changing the national conversation on cannabis, as well as changing the way media reports on cannabis in general, Baca strives to honor his journalism roots by making sure Grasslands follows suit. Grasslands is a cannabis marketing and PR agency with a few tech, healthcare, and government clients as well.
As Grasslands helps cannabis brands build compelling and meaningful stories through press launches and effective media placements, the company also takes care to document the intricacies of what they're learning in cannabis marketing on a daily basis. For Baca, it's been a thrill ride to transition to his new role while still operating in the cannabis space.
“We call ourselves a 'journalism-minded agency,' and we do everything we can to help out our partners in the media because we recognize the immense stress that they are under right now with layoffs and furloughs and reduced staffing and so much more.”
Before signing on a client to Grasslands, Baca said the company makes sure they align with their “client criteria,” which includes “recognizing the important contributions to our societies by journalists.”
“I think that's immensely important if you're working with us,” Baca added, “because we recognize that we don't have a job without the journalists we work with.”
Grasslands goes to great lengths to make sure journalism remains an essential pillar of their operation. The Grasslands blog features journalist Q&As where the company highlights individual journalists to give brands and others the opportunity to know them and their work.
“We are super passionate about making sure that the public at large recognizes how journalism contributes to the very fabric of our democracy,” said Baca, “and we would not work with a brand that does not recognize that.”
An optimistic future for cannabis
At this point in his career, Baca sees a bright future for cannabis legalization, acceptance, and evolution as a medicine.
“We know that we have an overwhelming percentage of Americans who support legal cannabis,” Baca said, “and I would argue that we haven't even seen anything yet. Even though this change has been monolithic, in the next decade, we will see a shift that will blow this most recent shift away in terms of acceptance.”
Baca elaborated, “As the stigma decreases and as minds open, more and more people will be opened up to the wellness potential of cannabinoids and terpenes. When you think about the amount of adult Americans who suffer from pain, anxiety, and inflammation, we're talking about a very decided majority.” When this majority feels more comfortable going to cannabis instead of over-the-counter and prescription painkillers, Baca argued, “this will improve our global wellness on a historic level that I think most people in the industry aren't even thinking about right now.”
Six products Ricardo Baca can't live without
Baca first tried weed in his teens, but the experience wasn't what he considers his proper introduction to the power of the plant. “I've never smoked anything successfully, and early unregulated edibles from my friend's kitchen were not an ideal introduction.”
Baca's revelatory cannabis experience came in 2013 in the form of a 10 milligram piece of chocolate. “I cut it up in four pieces to see what 2.5 milligrams of active THC would look and feel like, and holy shit!” Baca said. “Instantly, I woke up the next day and told my wife, 'This is my new preferred substance. I so prefer the experience we had last night to alcohol any day of the week.' I've been a convert ever since.”
Here are six weed products Ricardo Baca can't live without.
The Puffco Peak
“Obviously this is game changing technology,” Baca said of the Puffco Peak vaporizer. “What [Puffco CEO Roger Volodarsky] and his team have done, they met the market where they were. To normalize the dab blowtorch in an innovative, tech-savvy and aesthetics-conscious way, that was genius.”
Davinci IQ2 Vaporizer
“The Davinci IQ2 is certainly the best flower vaporizer on the market. With most of their competitors, there are significant airflow issues. That's what they directly addressed in this new iteration of the IQ. That airflow is on point, and I also appreciate their advancements toward dosage control. We definitely need to see more dose control in the vaporizer space.”
Veritas Sour Diesel
“It's kind of a cliche, but I've always been a Sour D guy,” said Baca, “and Veritas makes an incredible Sour D. The nose on this [flower] is insane. I Like the elevating strains, the uppers.”
Grasslands Trio of Trays
Grasslands has designed a delightful trio of rolling trays now on sale at their merch store. “My IQ2 is on one with flower remnants, my keys are on the other one, they've just become a really handy tool for the house and the office.”
A Marijuana Moment Subscription
“I'm so appreciative of all of the journalists covering the lifestyle side, the business side, and the policy side,” Baca said, “but I think we really need that policy side of reporting, especially people who are looking at what's happening federally, as well as different states and provinces. Tom Angell and his team do great work, and we've been proud supporters for years at different levels.”
Sugar High Milk Chocolate-Covered Caramels with Sea Salt
“We have been demanding edibles to taste better,” Baca commented, “and I think the market is finally starting to catch up with that consumer demand. These caramels are un-frickin'-believable.”