Jake Browne sauntered into his neighborhood marijuana shop recently and asked the “budtender” for a look at his wares.
The lanky attendant spread half a dozen mason jars across the counter, each holding a fat, fragrant bud of cannabis.
“Mmmm,” Browne purred as he opened a jar of Jack Flash. “Smells like drain cleaner and urine. Sounds unappetizing, but it’s actually great.”
He sniffed another.
“You get a nice Grape Skunk off of that,” he said. “You can smell the sandalwood and cardamom spice notes.”
Browne’s discerning nose is crucial to his role as marijuana critic for the Cannabist, a daily blog by the Denver Post covering the culture of pot.
“They do all the hard news reporting while I get to review weed,” he said.
The Cannabist, with two full-time staffers and 12 freelancers, serves as the nation’s first mainstream media guide to the swiftly evolving world of legal marijuana. There are advice columns, product reviews, recipes for edible pot and hard news coverage of the industry.
“I probably knew more than the average guy about marijuana when I got this job, but I was far from the biggest stoner in the newsroom,” said Ricardo Baca, marijuana editor at the Post, who oversees the Cannabist. “But over the past year, my knowledge has increased a thousandfold.”
The former music critic is now courted by growers flogging their product, outside politicians curious how pot legalization is working and a media enamored of marijuana, especially if a joke or pun can be wedged into a story. Television host and comedian Stephen Colbert famously began an interview with Baca on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” by quietly asking, “Are you a cop?”
Yet even Baca struggles to keep up with the ever-shifting world of cannabis.
“I think edibles are the story of the year,” he said. “They are baffling in every way. If you’re a kid they look like peanut butter cups. If you’re an adult you don’t know how much to eat. We have put out eight tips to follow in order to eat edibles safely.”
The next big issue, he predicted, will be concentrated THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that can be bought in crystals and smoked.
“It’s like the size of a pinhead and it’s the highest of highs,” he said. “It’s like freebasing marijuana.”
The blog’s “Ask the Cannabist” column recently had a reader wondering whether he could feed a queasy dog pot to prevent it from vomiting in the car.
“Any idea on dosing a 25 lb. beagle?” the writer asked.
The Cannabist, quoting a veterinarian, called it a “terrible idea.”
Baca keeps a close eye on the often light-hearted, if edgy, coverage.
“We probably have the conversation once a month — whether we are veering too much toward advocacy,” he said.
Denver Post News Director Kevin Dale said the blog had lived up to its mission.
“We approach cannabis the way we approach wine culture and beer culture,” he said. “Like it or not, it’s a legal substance and we provide the fullest spectrum of reporting on it consistent with our standards.”
Baca, 37, plans to hire another columnist soon and already has nearly 500 applicants.
“The column will be about sex, intimacy, relationships and pot. How does it make you a better lover? I want someone who has no inner dialogue, someone who just puts it all out there,” he said.
That sounds a bit like Browne, 31, a college dropout and sometime comedian who started blogging about pot while working in a marijuana dispensary.
His reviews offer blow-by-blow accounts of getting high.
“Where a buzz hits you can tell you a lot about what you’ll be in for,” he writes in a review of 303 Kush. It “sat in the center of my head — right behind my eyes — and camped out. This is the kind of ‘Magic Eye High’ where you find yourself looking at something, but also through it at the same time.”
Green Crack was another story.
“I was all over the place. A kid wearing Moon boots in a jumpy castle. … I was closer to chanting ‘Serenity now!’ than relaxing, though.”
Browne said pot strains are wildly different. Durban Poison, for example, makes him paranoid.
“Are the shades pulled? Is the NSA listening to me? It makes me jittery and introspective in the worst ways,” he said. “Indica puts me to sleep. Sativa is the champagne of pot with an effervescence that goes right to your head.”
Baca and Browne are constantly told they have the “coolest jobs in the world.” One is chronicling the history of legal marijuana as it happens, the other bearing witness to every buzz.
“Part of what we are doing is normalizing weed,” said Browne, raising his voice to a shout inside a crowded bar. “Because the fact that I smoked pot earlier today is really no big deal!”