Stirring the Pot

Several months ago, senior editor Casey Lyons came up with a compelling story idea regarding Question 3, the measure on next month’s ballot that would authorize medical marijuana in Massachusetts. With voters having already decriminalized the possession of pot back in 2008—approving an initiative that made carrying less than an ounce a mere misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $100—Lyons wondered whether allowing the medicinal use of marijuana might end up being just another step toward full-on legalization.

Lyons set about reporting his story [“Lost in the Weeds”], interviewing experts and talking to people on both sides of the issue. He also began to reconstruct the time he spent living in Colorado. He was there at the height of that state’s experiment with medical marijuana, and he watched as pot stores sprung up across Denver, quickly outnumbering cafés. The letter of the Colorado law may have limited marijuana to the sick and suffering, but Lyons found that anyone who wanted pot was able to get it. And by anyone, he increasingly felt compelled to admit, Lyons meant himself.

Halfway through the reporting process, Lyons came to me to talk through two important, and related, concerns. The first was his growing sense that he couldn’t write an honest article about the possible expansion of marijuana laws in Massachusetts without revealing his own extensive experience with the drug. The second was his awareness that the reporting process had driven him, almost inescapably, away from a piece concerned primarily with next month’s ballot measure and toward an account centered on his own struggles to understand his ongoing marijuana use. Lyons is a smart and accomplished guy, with a good education, an impressive career, and a wife whom he loves. Yet, he told me, he has never managed to escape the worry that his use of marijuana through the years had somehow held him back.

Lyons had started out certain that he supported the proposed Massachusetts law—and I believe that, if pressed, he’d say that he still does—but he had come to see that getting out of Denver and its abundance of easily attained pot had forced him to curtail his smoking, something he suddenly understood to be a benefit. And now here was Massachusetts poised to enact the very same law. Lyons found himself nagged by a constant thought: If this state, too, were to become awash in marijuana, would he again find himself smoking more than he believed was good for him? It was an unsettling question, and to find the answer, he realized, he needed to get to the bottom of his pot use.

It became clear that Lyons’s internal debate about marijuana was the best way to tell a story about Question 3. In his conflicted feelings about the measure, we realized, readers might hear echoes of their own uncertainty about the proposed law. On the one hand, the law would allow for the medical use of a drug that almost certainly offers genuine relief to people who are suffering. On the other, it might lead to more pot on the streets. How should we weigh the one against the other?

In the end, we decided that it was important for Lyons to reveal his use of pot. While it’s true that smoking marijuana is against the law, it’s also true that the recreational use of the drug is an important component of the broader medical-marijuana issue. It was not a decision we arrived at easily, but I believe it was the right one.