With Congress Negligent on Drug Policy The News Station Fills Void

WASHINGTON — When it comes to drug policy, the raging opioid crisis and mass incarceration, federal lawmakers aren’t just out of touch with average Americans of all political stripes, they’re so negligent as to be complicit in the pain felt by millions.

That’s why we’re excited to announce the relaunch of our new national alt-weekly, The News Station. Along with a complete redesign, our new site also includes new sections that embody a reinvigorated ethos: We do culture differently.

Some may wonder why a news outlet includes music, visual art, comic and poetry sections in the first place. What do those sections have to do with criminal justice and drug policy? The answer is simple: We cover American culture in all forms.

Yes, we often focus on legalization, but no, we’re not a pro-drug advocacy site. We just don’t have the luxury of wearing congressionally-approved blinders. We live in the real world, where the American people are rapidly unwinding the war on drugs in spite of congressional inaction.

Even as Congress has remained derelict, states and cities across the nation are acting swiftly to unwind federal prohibitions on an array of substances. So TheNewsStation.com is here, in part, to do what Congress has failed to do: Provide Americans resources on these increasingly mainstream substances.

I have a personal stake in this issue. I don’t want anyone to repeat my own mistakes.

Maybe it’s because, on top of being a congressional reporter for 15 years now, I’m also a professor, but I’ve been open about my use of marijuana for years. I only recently opened up about the slew of other substances I ingested over the years, but I left out some things.

Like the story of when I ran away as a 15-year-old. I took a Greyhound bus from Chicago to Santa Cruz, Calif., and it isn’t something I would recommend to anyone, especially not a teenager. But the ride didn’t end there. Once I was rescued by my loving family (which involved an intense foot chase, a gang of goth kids with chains beating me, and a swarm of confused Santa Cruz beat cops), I proceeded to get deep into cocaine.

In my late teens, I spent $15,000 to $20,000 on cocaine — a small fortune zapped in a matter of six months. Meanwhile I was also earning good money laying foundations for homes, but the money flew out because I couldn’t ever snort enough.

My dealer even convinced me to find a second source of income when the construction season slowed. Instead of seeking help, I listened and got a job at Abercrombie and Fitch. I lasted three days. I blew lines in the bathroom whenever possible, then danced to their shitty techno while folding preppy shirts at record-breaking speeds. My dinner breaks included drinking a 40-oz. brew and snorting a $40 bag of coke. When my shift ended, I’d go and buy another bag. Even a druggy knew the math didn’t work out, so, after a mere three days of retail hell, I walked out.

Soon after the A&F job ended and my money dried up, I became homeless, sleeping out of my baby blue 1982 Cadillac Coupe de Ville (the sound system was worth more than the car, which tells you everything).

I’m roughly 6’ 5” and at about 215 lbs currently, I’m fairly skinny. In that dark period in my life, I withered down to about 150 lbs: Pale, sickly, ghost-like, lonely, shackled to a substance and imprisoned by the false promise of a higher high.

We won’t get into details, but I escaped the bondage of coke with the help of family, friends and religion (yeah, I studied to be a pastor and gave sermons in my other past life), which is why it’s infuriating and heartbreaking watching states and local communities transition out of the “war-on-drugs” era without any assistance from the federal government.

Sure, marijuana is now recreationally legal in 18 states, here in the nation’s capital, and in some tribal lands and US territories, but that’s nothing. And not just because last month PEW reported some 90% of Americans are now OK with either medicinal or recreational cannabis.

Americans are moving past marijuana. In Oregon, possession of any and all drugs has been decriminalized (and, as we covered this fall, most voters supported decriminalization as a way to help stem the opioid crisis). Drugs were also decriminalized completely in Washington state for about the past four months, but now possession of harder substances is a misdemeanor, if still no longer a felony. Other cities are following suit.

Shrooms are now en vogue across America. While psilocybin (where the magic in “magic mushrooms” comes from) is now basically decriminalized here in the nation’s capital, Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Cambridge, Mass., Ann Arbor, Mich., among others.

I’ve been a regular adjunct professor at John Hopkins University (MA in Government and Public Policy) since 2016, and even I was surprised to learn JHU is home to the Johns Hopkins Psychedelic Research Unit — surely America’s top research institute on the potential benefits of an array of federally illegal substances. They’re not alone.

Clinical trials have also taken place — or are underway now — at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Yale, the University of Wisconsin, Emory University, the University of Chicago, Stanford, Imperial College London, the University of Arizona, Washington University School of Medicine, etc. NYU and the University of California, Berkeley have their own centers devoted to psychedelics coming soon.

This is why TheNewsStation.com has a robust Health and Wellness section, where we simply take the new research coming out regularly on one substance or another that we then flip into a short, easily accessible piece.

We strive to step out of the way and let the research speak for itself, whether that’s showcasing a study revealing marijuana may threaten people with heart rhythm disorders or new research revealing the promise many researchers see in psilocybin for treating depression and anxiety.

Our pages are diverse. We haven’t been around long, and we’ve already had op-eds from the head of Nevada’s largest addiction rehab center and a pastor who manages a harm reduction center in Ohio. I even profiled a comic in Pennsylvania who turned his past debilitating heroin addiction into a brutally honest and kinda funny podcast about his past struggles and current habits. And we regularly publish prisoners, now often in tandem with the Prison Journalism Project.

The American people need Congress to join these conversations. The opioid crisis has ripped through every community in recent years, yet federal policies still cloak these substances — the ones millions of Americans obviously like — with stigma. These shouldn’t be taboo topics. They’re as American as Bruce Springsteen or Jay-Z.

Congress may dupe and lie regularly, but TheNewsStation.com is here to inform. Personally, I want to use our e-pages to provide a safe space for people to come and learn from experts, so others aren’t saddled with the regrets I am — along with all those regrets saddling so many of my congressional subjects, family members and friends — at least the ones still breathing.

The federal dereliction doesn’t stop there. With little to no federal action, the nation now has a more than $17 billion marijuana industry — one that remains federally illegal. That’s insane.

But as a storyteller, I’m excited about this beat, because this new industry is overflowing with amazing true crime drama.

We’re already telling the stories of grifters (like the marijuana behemoths allegedly trying to bribe Black marijuana businesses owners in Oakland for their equity licenses), corrupt politicians (take the top political consultant to the Texas agriculture commissioner who was charged recently with allegedly soliciting $150,000 as a part of a hemp licensing scheme), the lingering black market (which is only perpetuated by the federal prohibition), even Western corporations trying to monopolize farmers’ cannabis in the small African nation of Eswatini, etc.

When I was a Rolling Stone contributor in 2019, I was tapped to moderate a panel on CBD at the Aspen Ideas Fest. Turns out, it was the only sold-out event in the Health portion of the weeklong retreat, because CBD is popular everywhere (even in the evangelical south, as former CNN and Yahoo! reporter Chris Moody highlighted in a feature for us this month). I had to laugh.

Of course the Rolling Stone reporter is going to be all in, right?

I had three of the top CBD researchers in the nation at my disposal, so we spent the bulk of our time debunking CBD myths and pointing out many of the unproven claims today’s snake-oil sales folks are making about products in dire need of further testing. The poor, if wealthy, Aspenites who bought tickets and packed the room to hear about this new “wonder substance” all left the ballroom deflated. Sorry, but it would have been dishonest and a disservice to do it any other way.

I may live and work in Washington, but I don’t have the luxury of dwelling in the bubble the nation’s politicians erected for themselves.

I also know marijuana and other substances are not all there is to life. Cocaine was my life once. But it strangled almost all of the life out of me. Marijuana is something I use to alleviate chronic pain. Anyone who knows the ridiculous amount of caps I wear on the daily would never call me a pothead.

Sure, some winos and craft beer drinkers read publications devoted to their libation of choice, but the substances any of us consume regularly — or just on special occasions — do not define us. Hence, TheNewsStation.com has a scope of coverage as broad and diverse as the nation.

Our Feature section will mostly include content that has nothing to do with drug policy or criminal justice: Even as Congress pretends substances are all evil, we know life is more than substances.

That’s also why our new Lit. section is an exciting melting pot tucked inside of our news site. It’s basically an arts and literary journal we created to highlight the talent of established or currently unknown writers, visual artists, spoken word competitors, musicians and everyday culture makers. Co-mingling. In one space.

We love artists working in all mediums, so we’re giving them a platform to play around and produce amazing art.

We also love satire and art of all forms, hence we want to be a platform for starting-off and established comics and political cartoonists alike to push their envelope and expand their audience base.

Music is life (and yes, I used to cover music ages ago, and for 15 years I’ve honestly said, “I survive DC politics by embracing DC’s band scene.” Truth), so we want to introduce readers to new music from an array of genres. But we also want to reorient how people consume music: Music is art, thus we’re publishing artist’s lyrics next to some of the best poets in the world, along with works from some passionate prisoners.

News is often draining — but never at The News Station.

Our Lit. section is curated by talented author Traci O’Dea, who is also a literary editor. She’s so good, she tore down barriers on day one as she wedged a rabbi’s insightful poem between the works of a prisoner and a @Playboy correspondent — not to mention a talented rapper, Grammy-nominated singer and other renowned poets.

Our goal at The News Station isn’t merely to inform you. Our spirit is exemplified across our new site: Let it and our diverse content areas rejuvenate your spirits. Play, learn and relax on our pages.

We’re different, because we want to mirror the nation itself in the diversity of topics, voices and artists we highlight.

Our model relies on local voices — an ever-expanding roster of veteran journalists, young contributors, established or aspiring comics, poets and funky artists spread throughout local communities across the nation. We know local journalists and artists tell their community’s stories best. Woven together, those stories make up the tapestry that is America.

Since I took over as managing editor last fall, as we’ve been quietly overhauling the site, we were also publishing pieces from more than 140 new contributors, including veteran journalists Ben Jacobs (frm. The Guardian), Thor Benson (frm. Daily Beast), Morgan Baskin (frm. VICE), Chris Moody (frm. CNN and Yahoo!), Daniel Newhauser (frm. VICE & National Journal), Jean Lotus (frm. UPI), Alex Thomas (Playboy), Leland Rucker (author, frm. Boulder Weekly), etc. That’s just a few, and more to come.

We’ve also been working on establishing relationships with local outlets across the nation. Since the fall, TNS has provided or published content from the Colorado Independent, Salt Lake Tribune, ProPublica, Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, Texas Tribune, News and Observer, Inewsource (San Diego), NC Primer, DigBoston, Prison Journalism Project, The Pitch (Kansas City), Random Length News (L.A. and Long Beach), Counterpunch, Mississippi Today, National Native News (NPR), etc. Just a start to the collaborations we have in the works.

Follow us on Twitter, because we need to know your thoughts so we can serve you better.

If you like the site, share it! We’re new, and we need your help spreading the word. Because only with your help will the nation’s political class finally catch up to where so many communities already are: Living in the real world; the only one we know, blemishes and all.


Matt Laslo

Managing Editor

The News Station

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

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