It is seemingly always "high time" for marijuana bills until they go "up in smoke."
Any reporter or editorial board looking to take an easy jab invariably brings up Cheech and Chong.
Many journalists just can't resist using any story involving cannabis as fodder for stale puns. And invariably, the most common targets are residents caught up in the criminal justice system.
Recently the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey covered all those bases in two articles that showcase the kind of discrimination marijuana consumers endure.
Kathleen Hopkins at the APP ran this story "Reefer rap on the docket" about the sentencing of John Peditto for growing 17 marijuana plants.
Peditto was convicted of possession and of operating a drug manufacturing facility. The latter offense was created to deal with cocaine and heroin but is often leveled against anyone caught growing pot in New Jersey.
Peditto faces up to 20 years in prison on Friday at his sentencing hearing.
This is as serious as it gets. A man's liberty is on the line for growing some non-toxic, non-lethal plants. If Peditto lived in Washington D.C. he could have cultivated a six plant cannabis garden and it would be perfectly legal.
The APP's Hopkins described Peditto's case this way:
The 45-year-old Mays Landing man had hoped to convince a jury it is high time to dispense of New Jersey's marijuana laws. But that turned out to be a pipe dream.
Now, Peditto is facing a long term in the joint.
When I mentioned the puns on Twitter, the APP's Steph Stolis, a breaking news reporter, came to Hopkins' defense.
Stolis suggested that the puns were not in any way meant to be humorous.
By definition, puns are meant to be funny. So her offered defense is pretty weak.
Solis went on to assure me that the puns were not intended as "ridicule." But that is exactly how it may have made John Peditto feel as he faces a heavy prison term.
Crime and court reporting is tedious work and essential news. It is not a beat I would want to cover every day. Often these reporters are given a bit of leeway by editors to add some puns in order to spice up the dry content.
Hopkins' other articles do have a pun here and there. Yet there was nothing as pun heavy as the article on Peditto's sentencing. Stolis, for her part, seems to have gotten it out of her system. She has been almost completely pun-free in her recent news reporting.
Reporters would never dream of punning up LGBT, Latino or African American community members in a court story. So why are cannabis consumers fair game?
Perhaps they are taking their cues from the Asbury Park Press' Editorial Board.
In a December 25th editorial about the prospect of legalizing marijuana in Atlantic City, the board started off with this line: "What was Assemblyman Reed Gusciora smoking?"
Then they opted to omit important facts while (of course) bringing up the dynamic duo.
But let's start with the prospect of attracting Cheech & Chong and their ganja brethren from places where marijuana is illegal — namely, every state but four, none of which are east of Colorado — to Atlantic City, where they can all light up doobies without fear of the long arm of the law.
Note to the APP editorial board: Marijuana has been decriminalized in New York state, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Toledo.
That cannabis has been fully legal in Washington DC for over a year also seems to have flown under their keen, green radar.
(A quick note on Tommy Chong, who I have interviewed several times. Yes he certainly, unabashedly enjoys marijuana. Tommy is also very intelligent, as are most comedians. He is bitingly aware when it comes to politics. Most important, Mr. Chong knows how to make a serious point and get a laugh.)
The APP editorial board went on to regurgitate some of the falsehoods of prohibition. In addition, it completely ignored the sentiment of Atlantic City's local government who are in support of having regulated cannabis in town.
Philly.com reported that AC City Council President Frank Gilliam was actually enthusiastic about hosting a zone of regulated cannabis.
"We did a resolution in support of decriminalization and commercialization within Atlantic City," Gilliam said.
But maybe they just don't want competition. Asbury Park adopted a resolution last summer to support marijuana legalization.
Ironically the APP reported that the group Help Not Handcuffs convinced the mayor and city council that arresting more than 400 people each year in the city was not the answer. The resolution urges N.J. state legislators to end prohibition.
The Asbury Park Press is certainly not alone in their tone. Despite resounding public support for cannabis reform newsrooms across the country all too often treat anything to do with marijuana as a joke.
Now I certainly have a healthy sense of humor...even (amazingly) after 22 months of federal probation over a 0.4 grams of weed. I've occasionally sprinkled puns in my own columns.
However, hard news reporters and editorial boards should treat the issue and cannabis consumers with respect.
Laws barring marijuana, the evolving public sentiment and active politics about legalization are serious topics.
So please, leave the jokes to the professionals, like Tommy.
John Peditto will be sentenced at 9.am. on Friday, January 15, at the Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River, New Jersey.
Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and on the board of PhillyNorml. Contact him at email@example.com.