COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When it hit the streets here last week, the latest issue of ReLeaf, a pullout supplement to The Colorado Springs Independent devoted to medical marijuana, landed with a satisfying thud.
Forty-eight pages in all, it was stuffed with advertisements for businesses with names like Mile High Mike’s, Happy Buddah, and the Healthy Connections (which enticed potential customers with promises of “naughty nurses” to tend to patients’ needs).
A full-page ad in ReLeaf costs about $1,100, making the publication a cash cow for The Independent, which has used its bounty from medical marijuana ads this year to hire one new reporter and promote three staff members to full time. The paper has also added a column called CannaBiz that follows news from across the country; its author is the new marijuana beat writer.
What would happen in the many communities now allowing medical marijuana had been a subject of much hand-wringing. But few predicted this: that it would be a boon for local newspapers looking for ways to cope with the effects of the recession and the flight of advertising — especially classified listings — to websites like Craigslist.
But in states like Colorado, California, and Montana where use of the drug for health purposes is legal, newspapers — particularly alternative weeklies — have rushed to woo marijuana providers. Many of these enterprises are flush with cash and eager to get the word out about their fledgling businesses.
“Medical marijuana has been a revenue blessing over and above what we anticipated,” said John Weiss, the founder and publisher of The Independent, a free weekly. “This wasn’t in our marketing plan a year ago, and now it is about 10 percent of our paper’s revenue.”
It is hard to measure what share of the overall market they account for, but ads for medical marijuana providers and the businesses that have sprouted up to service them — tax lawyers, real estate agents, security specialists — have bulked up papers in large metropolitan news markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver.
“This is certainly one of the fastest growing industries we’ve ever seen come in,” said Scott Tobias, president and chief operating officer of Village Voice Media, which publishes alternative weeklies.
Alternative weeklies are not the only publications raking in medical marijuana lucre. Dailies like The Denver Post are taking advantage of the boom and making no apologies about it.