High Country: Colorado Public Radio’s ‘On Something’ season two makes cannabis legalization make sense
Award-winning journalist Ann Marie Awad shares her own takes on pot policy, coping with anxiety and interviewing Willie Nelson.
Not much is surprising in this surreal year, but one stat that is? Cannabis is now legal in more states than it’s not. “On Something,” a podcast from Colorado Public Radio in partnership with PRX, is exploring the effect of America’s disjointed pot policy and the evolution of cannabis culture with its newly released second season.
Hosted by award-winning journalist Ann Marie Awad, each episode is a savvy storytelling session through the lens of Colorado as one of the first states to legalize adult-use cannabis.
“‘On Something’ is total pleasure listening but with a lot of substance. The oddball facts Awad throws out make the podcast seriously entertaining,” Nikki Lohr praised in a season one review for the LA Review of Books. “But as the question of legalization continues to come up in state legislatures across the nation, ‘On Something’ also offers knowledge that every voter should have. It’s as relevant and worth your time as any political podcast. You just probably don’t hear the sound of bong hits on those other shows.”
Seamlessly transitioning from hilarity to melancholy, Awad details the unexpected ways that legal cannabis intersects with the U.S. health care system, immigration laws and the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Awad digs into how she has treated her own anxiety and how cannabis can help listeners cope with the coronavirus crisis. Simply put: she makes it all make sense. Awad also manages to produce a companion email newsletter that you actually want to read (never automatically delete).
During a recent interview via email, Awad shared her own takes on the “On Something” phenomenon so far. The program is available for download now, with new episodes for season two dropping biweekly through October.
On perfectly nailing a podcast name:
“The name was so hard. We had to come up with something that told people what the show was about, but didn’t sound so ‘weedy’ that it would turn lots of people off. That alone was a months-long process. There were so many lists of names, so many rounds of brainstorming sessions, so many hilarious non-starters.”
On interviewing Willie Nelson:
“Honestly, this was my first big celebrity interview. After I spoke with Willie I was convinced I blew it for like a solid 24 hours after. He was a delight to talk to, and he strangely ended up setting the tone for a very music-filled season two. Willie will not be our last musical guest on this season! Fantastic Negrito, and members of the bands Chicano Batman and Tank and the Bangas, sat down for interviews this season. We also talked with Harold Sims, a Denver-based chef who won the Netflix cooking competition ‘Cooked With Cannabis.’”
On how life has (and hasn’t) changed post-legalization:
“Sometimes I think what’s most stunning is all the things that have stayed the same — Black people are still more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses in Colorado, and they’re far less likely to own a legal cannabis business themselves due to steep barriers. It’s wild to consider that Colorado only passed a law to address these problems this year, in 2020.”
On the inspiration to start a podcast:
“I had been covering marijuana legalization more and more since I came to CPR as a general assignment reporter in 2017. Before that I was an education reporter, and I started to get interested in the way cannabis taxes funded education in Colorado. I have always been kind of a nerd for policy and the types of stories I have always gravitated towards telling were the ones about how policies affect peoples’ real, everyday lives. Cannabis legalization felt like an excellent example — here’s something that each and every state has decided differently, and thus affects all types of people in all different kinds of ways. Over time, I became the go-to person for legalization stories in our newsroom, and I started to advocate for CPR to really own the issue in a bigger way. And my bosses responded by basically telling me to put my money where my mouth is and said, ‘Pitch us a podcast about it.’ And here we are.”
On her cannabis consumption:
“I’m a pretty regular user, as I mention in the show. Look, I’ll be honest, I had it in my brain at one time that I was never ever going to discuss my own use on the show. I thought it would undermine my credibility as a journalist. But over time I realized it would be impossible to make the kind of show I wanted to make — one that deconstructed stigmas and old ideas about drugs — without being more open about my own life. At the end of the day, we’re not making a show that’s a simple pro-and-con look at legalization. We acknowledge almost every episode that the way people interact with drugs is lot more messy and complicated than all that. That’s the constant lesson I learn from this work, anyways.”
On cutting through the news cycle:
“While we’re not a breaking news show, we do want to tell more stories that reflect on what’s happening out there right now. Look for an upcoming episode about the drug war and how it shapes policing. We also hear from listeners, and take their questions and feedback into account when we think of topics to cover. We also look for stories that make sense for us to tell — ones that have these onion layers we can peel back, to really connect a personal story to the bigger questions we’re trying to ask.”
On her favorite episode:
“I often come back to our episode about our love story in the first season. Because it’s really one of the stories I had in mind when I came up with the idea for this show: here’s someone who did something they thought was perfectly legal, but it turns out things are just a lot more complicated. And it raises some real, unanswered questions about the core of our immigration system. It came from a piece by Joel Warner in Westword like five years ago, long before I pitched ‘On Something,’ and it just stayed lodged firmly in my head ever since.”
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