Meet the US news reporter who quit her job live on air... to campaign for cannabis legalisation in Alaska

Journalist abandoned her script and stalked off with the now-immortal words: 'F*** it, I quit'

Tim Walker
Anchorage, Alaska
Sunday 02 November 2014 01:00
Charlo Greene in her final broadcast for KTVA
Charlo Greene in her final broadcast for KTVA

The evening bulletin of Sunday 21 September began like any other at KTVA, a local news station in Anchorage. Crime reporter Charlo Greene had prepared a report about the Alaska Cannabis Club, a business purporting to be the state's "only legal medical marijuana resource", now relevant thanks to an impending ballot on whether to legalise recreational weed in Alaska.

But as she reached the end of her news package, Ms Greene, who is 26, veered off script to reveal that she was in fact the owner of the club, and that henceforth she would be dedicating all her time and energy to campaigning for marijuana legalisation. As for her job, she added four now-immortal words: "F*** it, I quit."

At the time, Ms Greene thought her dramatic exit might draw Alaskans' attention to the issue of pot prohibition. Instead it became a worldwide sensation, with more than 12 million views on YouTube. "As soon as I said it, I was like: 'OMG, I can't believe I just did that,' " Ms Greene said. "I drove home, lay down and stared at the ceiling for a couple of hours. Then I opened Facebook and it was the only thing on my news feed. I get nauseous thinking about that day."

Soon she was the subject of evening newscasts across the US, alongside airstrikes in Syria and the Ebola crisis. The Daily Show, a satirical programme, did a segment on her. Her favourite piece of coverage was on Conan, the chat show. "There was a black comedian on," she recalled. "And he said: 'What everyone is asking now is: there are black people in Alaska?!'"

During an interview with The Independent on Sunday at a bar in downtown Anchorage, Ms Greene is interrupted by fans who ask to have their photo taken with her. One seemed interested in marijuana legalisation, but another simply said she was inspired by her leaving her job in such spectacular fashion.

Ms Greene worried for a while that the reason for her exit would be obscured by the manner of her quitting. On Tuesday, Alaska voters will be asked for their verdict on Ballot Measure 2, which would make it legal to grow and possess marijuana in the state. A similar ballot measure is being voted on during this week's midterm elections in Oregon.

Meanwhile, Washington DC will vote on issues around marijuana possession, while Florida is considering legalising the drug for medical use.

Voting on cannabis takes place in Alaska and other states this week

If the measures are passed, they will add momentum to a movement which began in Colorado and Washington state, which both voted to legalise recreational marijuana in 2012. As a Republican state, Alaska may seem an unlikely venue for such legislation, but medical marijuana has been legal here since 1998.

"This is the last frontier," Ms Greene said. "We're all about freedoms and liberties. People come up here to not have the government all up in their business."

Since leaving her job, Ms Greene has been campaigning for Measure 2, criss-crossing the vast state and raising some $11,000 (£6,900) in crowd-funding for her "Freedom and Fairness" campaign. She was recently given a "Courage in Media" award by the marijuana monthly High Times, while Elle magazine named her one of its "Most Powerful Women in Pot".

Not everyone in the cannabis community was impressed. Ryan Fox, chief executive of the Colorado firm Kindman, said Ms Green's YouTube clip would do little for the credibility of the legal weed industry, suggesting in a statement that her behaviour was "self-indulgent and glory-seeking".

Ms Greene (real name Charlene Ebge), grew up in Alaska with five siblings and a Nigerian mother who disapproves of swearing and drugs, and was less than happy about her daughter's outburst. "She was mad that I used a curse word on air – and to talk about marijuana," Ms Greene said. "She would not be voting yes on Measure 2."

Ms Greene discovered marijuana in her first year at the University of Texas, Arlington. "My friends all smoked, but I drank," Ms Greene said. "I failed all my classes and was about to get kicked out. One of them suggested I try smoking instead. I tried it, I loved it and I was on the Dean's list every semester after that. I graduated cum laude."

Ms Greene planned her exit from KTVA for a month, and even rigged the Alaska Cannabis Club story by sending a press release from the company to the news station as bait. The one thing she hadn't planned was exactly what to say on screen. "I knew that if I wrote what I wanted to say in the teleprompter, my producer would read it and the story would be killed. So I just winged it. I said what I needed to say – and a little more."

In a statement, KTVA apologised for the "inappropriate language" and said that by not disclosing her conflict of interest, Ms Greene had "betrayed the basic bedrock of responsible journalism". Ms Greene has not heard from her former co-workers since she left. "It was my favourite reporting job and my highest-paid one, and I really enjoyed working there," she said. "But this is what I'm supposed to be doing."

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