Ricardo Baca was a staff writer, editor, and critic at daily newspapers, and he had been for two decades. In 2013 Ricardo’s editors at The Denver Post named him the paper’s first-ever Cannabis Editor. Taking that torch was a risk. No other legitimate news outlets were even thinking of doing something like that.
The Managing Editor of the post and the news director Kevin Dale presented the role, as Baca recalls, saying, “You know it I just did a little research and weed doesn’t even kill anybody and. Alcohol kills like 80,000 Americans a year. So we need to cover this from a fact-based perspective and not just repeat a lot of the propaganda that probably journalists have been repeating for 80 years,” and I agreed with them, said Ricardo. “Even though I didn’t know much about cannabis at the time and when they appointed me as the marijuana editor at the post in November 2013.”
The marijuana journalism landscape looked bleak and unforeseen and quite risqué for a public figure to report on what was a Schedule 1 drug for many. The Colorado Amendment 64, passed by voters on November 6, 2012, led to legalization in January 2014. Somewhere in the middle came marijuana news and policy reporting and the risk turned into success, even desire from the public — a desire to the right to facts and the truth.
Ricardo’s reporting on the ‘mysterious plant’ updated the century-old marijuana rhetoric and led to these accomplishments:
- The world’s first (and “most prestigious” according to Vice) marijuana editor.
- Founder of the award-winning news vertical The Cannabist;
- The primary subject of Rolling Papers, a documentary released theatrically in February 2016;
- One of Brookings Institution’s 12 Key People to Watch in Marijuana Policy
- One of Fortune magazine’s 7 Most Powerful People in America’s Marijuana Industry;
- One of Time magazine’s 140 best Twitter feeds;
- One of Sensi magazine’s 24 Cannabis Pioneers Who Matter.
- CEO of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency
In 2016, Richardo founded Grasslands—a national communications firm offering public relations, thought leadership and content marketing services for businesses operating in highly regulated industries including cannabis and hemp, biotech, sustainability, government, and healthcare. For over two years, the agency rented a space in the Golden Triangle right behind the Denver Art Museum, which they have outgrown. Grasslands Purchased a $1.2 Million Denver HQ, and expands the staff to 13 Full-Timers, and grow its client base for the year 2020.
“It’s pretty big, pretty scary, and it’s so thrilling. You know, when I think about it, I’ve always loved the construct of agencies. I think it even predated my obsession with Mad Men, but an agency is not a business,” Baca says. It’s not a newspaper or a consumer back packaged Goods. It’s not a product company an agency is all about ideas and strategy, and it’s this amazing Collision of the obtuse. Because it is so much about ideation and strategy and partnership with your clients, I’ve always believed that an agency needs to exist in a physical space that’s pleasing to the eye, that’s inspiring to the soul, that clients love coming to, even friends and partners in the media love coming to for coffee in the morning or a cocktail after work.”
Richardo aimed for the Grassland Agency forever home since opening the doors. “We work closely with our clients on strategy and media policy, fueling them as idea partners, and our new space will very much be reflective of that overtime,” Baca says. “It’s going to take that agency concept of what that office looks like and kind of turn it on its side in away. The lobby is going to be oversized. It’s going to have experiential art with takeaways. We’re going to have an ofrenda, which is kind of like an altar for Day of the Dead, where you remember your loved ones who have passed. We’re going to have family and friends and heroes who we never met on there, and it’s going to be interactive.”
Baca will have an open-door policy in Grasslands, whether it’s the people in the local neighborhood, the mailman, or a client/prospective client, wanting all to come in be treated with respect and welcomed warmly.
Grasslands are focusing on two areas right now. The first area is public relations; the second is accounts and operation. The Agency onboarded four new colleagues in the last month, focusing on client-facing public relations talent and operations staff dedicated to elevating the client experience and quality control.
The Agency is focusing on building infrastructure, with a reliable six-person PR team, led by a new hire Amanda Lowell, with support staff to expand on what they can do for their clients. The group operates on the needs of their clients with prompt replies and solutions, and an experienced hi-end management team that executes unique journalism fueled strategy.
Behind the scenes is accounts and operation led by Kit Margaret, with over twenty years of Organizational experience, working with vendors, accounts, and operations. Baca says, “her work is emboldening us as an agency and making us all the more accountable to our clients because you know, if you’re not servicing your clients, then you’re going to be out of business.”
Ricardo is a leading drug policy expert profiled by The New York Times, Poynter, The View, The Colbert Report, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me—and a trusted source on all things cannabis (regulations, policy, implementation, normalization) by This Week With George Stephanopoulos, BuzzFeed, NPR’s All Things Considered, The Guardian, Esquire, Fast Company, Al Jazeera, BBC, Mashable, International Business Times and CBC, Ricardo continues to write for top publications, including Cannabis Now magazine, The Denver Post, Sensi magazine and The Daily Beast where he pens the weekly column Joint Ventures—but he’s also thrilled to be working on the other side of communications at his full-service agency Grasslands.