The Denver Post’s marijuana editor campaigned against drug testing for pot at the paper

“I was asked by a number of editors at The Post to help their would-be new-hires pass drug tests they were likely to fail.”

Denver's latest cash crop. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Ricardo Baca, the first marijuana editor for The Denver Post, defied all the easy punchlines. He proved over three years with The Cannabist that a publication could take the marijuana industry seriously while still capturing the essence of an evolving cannabis culture.

However, that didn’t stop Baca from occasionally playing the role of resident stoner-journalist advocate.

“I was asked by a number of editors at The Post to help their would-be new-hires pass drug tests they were likely to fail,” he wrote in an email to Denverite.

(He originally talked about this on Stoner, a new and rather smart podcast.)

“It was generally a pretty quick process — a phone call to discuss how long it had been since their last ingestion of cannabis, how regular an aficionado they were, when they were expected to take a pee test for their employment at The Post, etc.”

New hires in Colorado often are surprised to learn that they may be drug tested. In fact, it’s completely legal to deny employment after a positive THC test in Colorado, even if the person uses for medical purposes.

So, Baca helped new recruits navigate that awkward space between expectation and cold, corporate reality. He would even link the prospective journalists to a piece in The Cannabist about passing drug tests, which is kind of ironic.

“It was funny, but it was also obnoxious,” wrote Baca, who’s now running Grasslands, a public relations shop for the cannabis industry.

He first lobbied the newsroom leadership, then moved up the chain to human resources for the Post and its parent, Digital First Media.

His argument: Weed is legal in Colorado. It’s nonlethal, while alcohol kills roughly 90,000 people yearly. People can test positive weeks after their last use, meaning a positive test is not an indication of impairment at work.

And moreover, he recalled, “we were being hypocritical if we were dedicating such resources to the reporting of this beat and accepting advertising dollars from the industry but still testing our own editorial employees for THC … ”

Something worked.

“Yes, our policy did change several months ago,” editor-in-chief Lee Ann Colacioppo confirmed in an email. The newspaper no longer administers pre-employment drug tests for certain jobs, including all newsroom jobs, she wrote.

The Post isn’t alone: About 7 percent of Colorado businesses reported in a recent survey that they had dropped marijuana from pre-employment tests, as the newspaper reported.

The same group found in 2014, though, that a fifth of respondents had tightened up drug-testing policies after legalization — so, it’s hard to say which direction companies are heading.

Neither Colacioppo nor Baca knew whether Baca’s campaigning had anything to do with the Post’s change. Either way, it’s one less barrier if Baca ever decides to return to full-time journalism.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.