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What would New York look like if marijuana is legalized?

That is the single question that prompted more than 60 students to generate dozens of stories, photos, videos and data visualizations for the High Stakes reporting project. A survey found that more than 90% of New York college students want pot legalized. Reporting revealed that many veterans view medical marijuana as essential. We got an inside look at marijuana research already taking place in the state, but learned the drug’s continued illegality is hampering that work. Meanwhile, farmers and businesses aren’t waiting for legalization to figure out the supply chain for marijuana developing in New York.

There are more than a dozen other stories, too, including ones on negative effects of marijuana and the dangers it poses in the workplace and on the nation’s roads. But did we answer the original question?

That turned out to be a tall order, in part because cannabis culture is already flourishing at Syracuse University and elsewhere in New York, including at a farm where a hemp harvest was the occasion for a huge celebration of the plant. Many students wondered how much things would change if pot were legal for recreational use, although students were nonetheless disappointed when COVID-19 derailed New York’s latest effort to legalize marijuana, which looked like a sure thing when reporting began on this project in September.

We do know, though, that legalization would benefit New Yorkers caught up in immigration proceedings. And our reporters found differences in culture at colleges in Massachusetts and Vermont, where weed is already legal.

Alexandra Jennerjahn and Kienan Dixon work on the narrative for their High Stakes video story.
Broadcast and digital journalism students Alexandra Jennerjahn and Kienan Dixon work on the narrative for their High Stakes video series.

Regardless of whether we answered the original question, the project is a deep-and-broad examination of cannabis in New York as the state’s drug laws remain in flux. It is also a testament to Newhouse visual journalists, designers, social media managers, reporters, editors and digital producers.

Dozens of students who fit those descriptions made this project successful at a very difficult time. As with many universities, the coronavirus pandemic brought on-campus classes to a halt in March while the virus disrupted life around the world. But it proved to be a small obstacle for the students working on this project, who found a way to get it done.

As is the Newhouse School way, this project had steadfast support from all levels of the school including Magazine, News & Digital Journalism chair Melissa Chessher and interim dean Amy Falkner. Nearly every faculty member in the MND, Broadcast & Digital Journalism and Visual Communications departments lent a hand by either joining the project team, passing on story and source tips, encouraging students to participate and in myriad other ways, too.

Thank you to Newhouse alumnus David Flaum and his wife, Jackie, who have been generous supporters of reporting experiences for Newhouse journalism students, including High Stakes.

Most of all, thank you to the student contributors. This is your project. Most of you did this as volunteers, outside of class, for no credit or compensation. You did this because, well, you’re journalists and you can’t help but dive into a good reporting project. You make us proud.

VR student Sonny Cirasuolo visited the Surge Laboratory in Geneva on March 1, 2020.
VR film student Sonny Cirasuolo captured 360-degree video during a March visit to Cornell University's Surge Laboratory in Geneva, New York.

Reporting & Visuals Team

Kallan Arkeder

Andrew Benbenek

Sydney Bergan

Candice Bina

Kate Brennan

Elijah Brown

Mallory Carlson

AJ Carrion

Sonny Cirasuolo

Meredith Clark

Kienan Dixon

Gracyn Doctor

Cameron Ezeir

Colleen Ferguson

Rocio Fortuny

Talia Gerardi

Sydney Gold

Carter Griffin

Lydia Herne

Christopher Hippensteel

Porter Holt

Jewél Jackson

Alexandra Jennerjahn

Emily Karp

Emily Kenny

Zachary J. Krahmer

Jordan Larson

Sarah Lee

Patrick Linehan

Stephanie Macrinos

Owen Mitchell

Jordan Muller

Kai Nguyen

Laura Oliverio

Amanda Paule

Louis Platt

Eleanor Quarles

Meilin Quinn

Amy Nakamura

Keturah Raymond

Singdhi Sokpo

Sharee Turpin

Jenna Wirth

Morgan Wood

Digital Producers

Eric Black

AJ Carrion

Van Elbridge

Anne Hayes

RaeAnne Kascale

David Schneidman

Shannon Stubbs

Ian Toner

News Editors

Veer Badani

Mitch Bannon

Nick D’Alessandro

Camille Daniels

Matt Geraci

Max Kalnitz

Joaquin Mancera

Tanner Russ

Kyla Wright

High Stakes project coordinators meet during a planning session
High Stakes project coordinators meet during a weekly planning session.

Project Leadership Team

Faculty Project Coordinator / Supervising Editor
Jon Glass

Site Developer & Faculty Co-Coordinator – Visuals
Seth Gitner

Faculty Co-Coordinators – News
Shelvia Dancy
Greg Munno

Student Project Leads
Erin Gavle – Campus Culture Producer
Dan Lyon – Visuals Producer
Kevin Camelo – Lead Designer
Brooke Schneider – Social Media Director