Hey, everybody. Today's show is going to be a little different. Throughout the life of this podcast we've asked you, our wonderful listeners, to pick up the phone and leave us assignments. And you know what? You delivered.
Wow, what a great discovery. Audie.
I'd love to see you do a deep dive. You're so good at them.
And I'm calling because there's a controversial topic that I think the media is getting very wrong.
I love getting these messages. And once you left enough of these leads, we realized that you would do an excellent job programing the show. So today, the assignments come from you. I'm Audie Cornish. Here's what we did. We took three of your assignments and then called up three reporters who could give us some answers. Let's get into the first message with my colleague here at CNN, Clare Duffy. Clare, just start by telling us what you do here officially.
Yes. So officially, I am a tech reporter for the CNN business team.
However, we have an interesting question for you today as very special voicemail from one of our listeners that we think you can help us out with. Here it goes.
Hi. I guess it's for an assignment. I was curious as to the ongoing coin shortage and what's the deal with that? Whether it's a conspiracy with credit card companies getting the fee, extra fees or just laziness on nobody wanting to go to the bank and getting, you know, dimes, nickel and pennies. My information is Sarah in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Thanks. Okay. So Sarah from Albuquerque bringing us a question about the coin shortage. And I detect a little bit of cynicism about whether it's a conspiracy from the credit card companies or not. So first, just tell us, is there still a coin shortage? For sure?
Yeah. So I think we should start by saying that the word the phrase coin shortage is actually always been sort of a misnomer. What it really is is a coin circulation issue, which is not nearly as nice of a name. But the point is the coins are actually out there. The Federal Reserve actually estimated last fall that 10 to $14 billion of coins are sitting in people's coin jars across the country.
Okay, so basically it just didn't make it out of our pockets.
They're just not moving around the economy like they normally would. And this started at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are staying home. They're shopping online. There's this big emphasis on contactless forms of payment, like Sarah is talking about paying with credit cards or Apple Pay. And also at the start of 2020, the U.S. Mint actually slowed coin production temporarily because of employee safety measures. So that all leads to the fact that coins are piling up under our couch cushions or in our coin jars, and they're not circulating around the economy like they normally would.
And this was a thing because I remember this will sound really nerdy, but there was like a U.S. coin task force.
No. The Federal Reserve started this U.S. coin task force as a way of trying to figure out how to address this issue. And a lot of people will also remember those signs at the grocery store. That's why I initially got really curious about this story, is you have all these grocery stores saying you have to pay an exact change or don't expect us to give you exact change if you're paying in cash. And the question for me was like, can't the U.S. government just print more coins? Why is it how is this an issue?
So why do people care about whether or not there are enough coins around?
Yeah, it is a good question because it's it's right like most of us can take our credit cards out. It's not that much.
Right. Our phones. And I think for a lot of people it's like, okay, so if I don't get a few cents extra up or down, if I don't make exactly like, what does it matter? But this actually is a real issue for certain kinds of businesses. Think about laundromats, think about public transportation. Even convenience stores rely heavily on cash payments, as well as for millions of Americans who are unbanked or who don't have access to credit cards. And for a lot of those people, it might actually make a big difference whether or not they get exact change.
In the meantime, there's been this weird story for a long time. One of our producers immediately flagged it to say that they, like, wanted to get rid of the penny. And it's like a movement of people.
Can you talk about what's going on there?
That is sort of, to me, the story beneath the story of this coin shortage or circulation issue is that it's actually really expensive to produce certain kinds of coins, especially the penny. The penny for two decades has cost more for the U.S. Mint to make and ship than it's actually worth.
Do we know how much more?
Yeah. So it costs about $0.03 now to make a penny. And that cost has been rising steadily. So it's three times the value of the thing. And just to put that in context, the U.S. Mint lost $93 million on the 5.3 billion pennies that shipped last year. It also, I will say, costs about $0.10 to make a nickel. And so there is the suggestion that possibly one of the ways to address this coin circulation issue is to do away with the penny. And this is a thing that people have been kind of debating for a long time. There are people who say that the U.S. Mint could be spending more money on producing the coin denominations that actually are worth more than it costs to make them.
And then it could also save store clerks and consumers time at the register. They don't have to fumble around for making exact change down to the cent. And now the Federal Reserve is actually discussing not doing away with the penny entirely, but changing it sort of production mix shift to produce more of those higher value denomination coins like dimes and quarters and fewer pennies.
So to come back to our original question from Sarah from Albuquerque, who is partially right, it seems, because she said, are we just lazy also and it seems like we are part of the problem. We are not bringing our coins out of our pockets, out of our jars, out of our houses and putting them back into circulation.
Yes. Yeah, it is still an issue. It's gotten somewhat better. You're not seeing, for example, those signs at the grocery store as often asking people to make exact change. But this is still an issue. The Federal Reserve and a number of industry groups are still talking about ways to solve this issue. There have been sort of these funny PSA from that coin task force videos encouraging people to bring their coin jars to their local Coinstar machines.
Together we can get coins moving again and into the hands of the people and businesses that need them. Thank you very much.
They had this kind of wonky hashtag campaign: get coin moving.
That didn't ... nobody was doing hashtag get coin moving?
Yeah, it's still it's still an issue.
Well, Clare, thanks so much. Thanks for your curiosity. And thanks to Sarah for the question.
Clare Duffy is a tech reporter with CNN Business. Up next, a big Sky country question from our listener, Sue. And for this one, we called up Brad Tyer. He's an editor at the Montana Free Press. Brad, first, just introduce yourself who you are and what you do.
Sure. My name is Brad Tyer, and the editor really kind of functioned as a managing editor at Montana Free Press, based in Helena, Montana. We're a relatively new organization. We were founded in 2016, really started getting some traction just in 2019. So, yeah, we're a statewide news organization. We're digital first, we're nonpartisan, we're nonprofit. You see organizations like us popping up around the country trying to fill the void over the decline in print newspapers.
Okay. Well, we have an assignment that we actually did come direct for you in a way. Here's the assignment from our listener.
Hi, Audie. My name is Sue. I live in western Montana, and the state of Montana is currently under siege by a right wing conservative government. And I just thought it would be an interesting story for you to reach out to the Montana Free Press. And I think it would be interesting to look into Montana politics. Used to be a blue state, and now we're almost completely red. We have one Democrat left representing us in Senate, Jon Tester, and he's up for reelection this year. We're hoping that or Tester can pull it out. I think he will. But anyway, I just wanted to let you know that. Thank you so much. I love your podcast and thank you for everything you do.
So a shout out for the Montana Free Press and...
That's awfully gratifying.
So let's begin with Sue's question, because obviously Sue comes from her own political point of view, right? You can hear it in the language, right? But she is .. the reason why I wanted to talk about this one is because she seemed to be conveying the idea that there was something extreme going on or that there was a movement happening that people may not be totally acknowledging. So can you talk about first, is the Montana legislature acting in a way that would kind of deserve the comparisons she made?
Well, it's a great question, and there's a lot to unpack there. There's a lot of value added language in her question that I'm going to steer clear of because we share a decidedly nonpartisan outlet. That said, during the 2023 legislature, for the first time in modern history, the state GOP did have a supermajority in the in the state Senate, in the state House of Representatives. And for the first time in 16 years, Montana had a Republican governor. So the dynamic for years has been a legislature that has been, you know, maybe its most extreme impulses have been kind of shut down at the governor's veto desk. Those impulses are no longer being shut down at the governor's veto desk because the legislature has a friend on the on the second floor.
You talked about having a friend on the second floor. So we're talking about the Republican governor, Greg Gianforte. He actually came to be known to me and probably some others, because when he was a candidate for the U.S. House, he actually assaulted a reporter.
I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came in here, he did the same thing. Get the hell outta here.
Get the hell outta here! The last guy did the same thing. You with The Guardian?
Yes. And you just broke my glasses.
The last guy did the same damn thing.
He still won. What has he been doing? Sort of, where the issues where he is kind of making himself known that might feel different to someone like Sue?
Well, he initially came in under a promise to bring Montana, you know, back to business. This was post-COVID. You know, Montana was one of the earlier states to have significant shutdowns. There was a lot of political blowback to that under Montana's term limited Democratic governor. There was also, you know, the anti-abortion issue was big. The governor is a is a fundamentalist Christian and has been on that agenda for quite a while.
And this is significant because Montana actually has pretty strong protections when it comes to abortion rights, which might surprise some people who haven't been watching the state for a long time.
You might not guess it from a distance, but there's a 1999 case in front of the Montana Supreme Court called Armstrong versus State. That is the case that established that abortion access is protected under the state constitution's privacy provisions that has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court several times.
So it means that the discussion about abortion rights in Montana is like a live conversation.
Finally, I think the Montana is going to be kind of a state that political watchers might get interested in because of its Senate race coming up. So just remind us again, Jon Tester is a Democrat. People might know him because of the haircut. He's got a kind of a look, a vibe that's like, I'm from the Mountain West.
Who is he in the state like? What do people think of him?
Well, he's he's popular politician. He's got a constituency, obviously, on the Democratic side. He is a dirt farmer from Big Sandy, Montana. He's got a he's got a flattop. He's missing some fingers on one of his hands from a meat grinder accident when he was young, came up as a schoolteacher in Montana and served in the state legislature and is now running for his fourth term.
So even with this rightward shift in the state which you described about the state legislature, he's surviving.
He has survived so far. All of his reelection campaigns have been pretty tight. And, you know, it's been several election cycles now that, you know, we always hear that Tester is vulnerable. He has not succumb to that vulnerability yet.
But he's always been looked at as vulnerable because he's out there. Right. Like Republicans think, come on, Montana is a pickup for us at some point. And yet I understand Republicans in a state are getting a little bit antsy about what candidate they're going to back, that there may actually be like a primary like with real back and forth stakes. Who are the players?
So it's worth noting that Montana's junior U.S. senator, Steve Daines, he is the chair of the Republican Senatorial Committee. So he's kind of in charge of taking back the Senate in 2024. So he and Mitch McConnell, they have hand-picked Tim Sheehy to be the Republican to run against Tester in 2024.
Someone they believe is electable. That's their job.
Someone that someone they believe is electable, somebody they believe can help sort of self-finance a campaign. He's a former Navy SEAL. Has that in common with Montana's Western district, U.S. House Representative Ryan Zinke. He's a good looking guy, a quote unquote, self-made businessman resume. Meanwhile, over in eastern Montana, we have Representative Matt Rosendale, who is a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus. He has not declared yet, but it is widely presumed that he's going to run for Tester's seat.
When you talk about him being a part of the Freedom Caucus, do we mean the part that like didn't want McCarthy to be Speaker? The part that's a little more Trumpy?
One in the same. That's the that's the Freedom Caucus.
So what I'm hearing you say is you have Tester who's the kind of Democrat in a kind of Republican state who's doing well. The party is excited about that, but they got to help him hold on to it. And then you have this kind of battle which is echoing across the country, which is that you have an establishment air quotes Republican who's pretty conservative, right? Who is like aligned himself with a lot of right wing causes and yet someone coming along and being like, that's not enough. You're not right wing enough, you're not behind Trump enough, whatever it is. And I feel like we're seeing that echo over and over and over again across the country. But I can understand how it might be jarring for someone like Sue, our listener who feels like her kind is not long for this world politically in Montana.
Right. It's a really interesting question. Montana has a long political history as a quote unquote, purple state, a long history of splitting tickets. You know, I mentioned for a long time we've had a Republican dominated legislature. But for that same time, we've had consistently Democratic governors. That purple identity is kind of up in the air. Whether or not that's going to continue. Montana is changing, our population is changing. So there is an influx of population. A lot of that is related to or at least happened during and immediately post COVID times. We don't really know who those people are. We get feedback all the time saying, who are all these liberals moving to Montana, changing the state, and then at the same time we get feedback indicating that it's not liberals moving to the state, it's conservatives moving to the state. And this is a live question. We don't have a lot of significant professional polling in Montana.
So it's difficult to know what we're dealing with in terms of is that red wave permanent? Was that red wave real? Was it an anomaly? Is Tester going to get swept out of office in the new Montana or will he be able to hold on to the seat?
So if we see the nationals spending a lot of time and more importantly, a lot of money in Montana, we'll know why.
Oh, yes. Well, and you know that that kind of balance. What is that balance of power in Montana going to be is is reflected in, you know, the very close balance of power in the Senate. So there will be a ton of money, a ton of money poured into this race because not just Montana's political identity, but, you know, the balance of power in the Senate is is riding on just a very few seats. And this is one of those crux seats.
Thank you so much for talking with us.
Oh, really Glad to be here. Thanks for asking.
And thank you to Sue for your question. That was Brad Tire of the Montana Free Press. And we'll have a link to their Web site in our show notes.
And finally, we're giving our last question of the day to our most devoted listener by far.
Hi, Audie. It's Nathan from Houston, Texas.
Nathan calls a lot and we love it.
Hi, Audie. This is Nathan, and I'm calling with another taste. I just have to first say that thank you for the today's episode.
You have to hear this listener. They're adorable. I think he called more than once.
Hi, Audie. I'm calling again. This is Nathan.
Nathan, bless his heart, but I love.
I said the same thing. It was like he was just like, I don't know. I don't even know who to call.
That's Jacqueline Howard, a health reporter with CNN.
I'm calling again just because I don't know there's no place to... I don't I really want to know more about the effect of marijuana legalization on children. As a teacher, what I'm seeing is because it has become legal, it has become vastly easier for kids to get a hold of marijuana and they're going to the restroom and smoking weed. I talk to them. Where are you using...getting this from? Because it's like kids that you would not even think of really as like, how are they getting weed? They kind of getting crazy. And there's no anti, there's no like DARE you know, obviously DARE never worked, I'm going to stop, but just can we can I learn a little bit more about that? Can expert about how we talk about this.
You can hear the exasperation in his voice. This is a really interesting assignment to get because it was about it was like ten years ago now that the Justice Department said, like, look, we're not going to enforce the federal law against the use of marijuana in states that have like recreational cannabis programs. And now here we are, like all these years later, and there's what, 21 states plus the district that have some kind of adult, some kind of marijuana for adult recreational use. So it's like just way more common. First, what was your initial thought when you ....hearing this?
Yeah, you know, Nathan's comments make me think of how we do know there is data out there. And this is from the American Academy of Pediatrics that does say, of course, with marijuana legalization, that may be associated with easier access and increased availability for for teens specifically. But also when you kind of think about generations in the past, teachers previously had issues of kids smoking in the bathroom. And today now we're hearing from teachers like Nathan and others of kids using marijuana in the bathroom. And and so my initial reaction is this is not something new. It's just to me, the substance of choice has has shifted.
And yeah, and we have data to support that. There's an annual report called Monitoring the Future and the latest survey that's part of this report. It was released in December and it showed that the number one substance of choice that adolescents report using is alcohol is number one, followed by nicotine vaping. But number three is marijuana. So it seems like we're just kind of witnessing a shift in the substance of choice here.
And then I went digging into like the CDC rabbit hole on this. They survey kind of the percentage of high school students using this drug or that drug or report using it, and they found that there's a large percentage of middle and high school students who are reporting marijuana vaping in the past year like that, that number had gone up and we're still talking low numbers. 8% of eighth graders, 19% of 10th graders and 22% of seniors. But the point is this use is going up, whereas other kinds of drug use like had sort of was stable or lower. And so you you do have a generation of people who even culturally like, don't see it as a big bad anymore.
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And that's something that has been found where it does seem like, as you said, this this younger generation perceives it as lower risk. And I think it will be interesting to see as the younger generation, you know, ages how that may impact not just society, but policies. And we even know right now that health officials at HHS on the federal level are reviewing the scheduling of marijuana.
Yes. So this is new, right? Right now, marijuana is a schedule one drug, which means you get caught with this just like if you get caught with cocaine or other things that are schedule one, you get a heavier penalty. They want to bump it down to what?
Schedule three so that's what the recommendation is, now...
What else is in schedule three? What's what's the company class of drugs there?
So the difference is so schedule one, where it is currently includes heroin, LSD, I mean, that's the most dangerous. Schedule three indicates that it does have acceptable medicinal use. So that would also include like some pain medications, for instance. And schedule three is defined as having a lower risk of abuse compared with scheule one.
With though I think I see in schedule three ketamine and also steroids.
Yes. Yes, exactly. Exactly. So what we could see and in my opinion over time is as this younger generation ages, not only could we see more examples like this of rescheduling, but there is this movement now to deschedule altogether, which would simply just make it a legal substance, because even with, you know, shifting it from schedule one to schedule three, it's still illegal under federal law. It's just a different schedule.
You know, this is kind of a hard question. I don't mean to put you on the spot, but like we're in an age where, you know, you as a parent might be enjoying your own edibles, right? Might be using recreational cannabis in all kinds of ways. So like, how do people have to wrap their head around what this means like for their kids? How do you kind of talk about it without sounding like a PSA from the 1950s movie reels?
Right. And it is interesting how, you know, there are it seems like different approaches to this as we're all kind of trying to figure it out. And I think one interesting piece of advice that came from the American Academy of Pediatrics was to, you know, not just be open and honest, you know, with with your kids and talk to them about, you know, what may be appropriate for them versus an adult like yourself. But to keep talking, keep that conversation going where it becomes something that is a normal discussion instead of feeling like, oh, this is a special, you know, discussion I'm having with my mom or dad, you know, if it's if it's seen if you present it to the kid as something that's unusual and intense and, you know, they're looking at your behaviors. But hearing this message, you know, not to use certain substances, then it kind of creates this whole other experience that may feel uncomfortable for them.
I'm having deja vu because when I was young, there was a PSA. Maybe we'll find it where a guy catches his kid with a box. I think with marijuana in it, I think some kind of drug. And he's like finger wagging at his kid, like, what is going on? How did you learn this stuff?
Who taught you how to do this stuff? You alright! I learned it by watching you!
Parents who use drugs have children who use drugs.
And then that freezes on his face. You know, it's like one of those Ad Council anti-drug things. And I was hearing others is like, Oh, here we go again. Right. Like, you have to suddenly look at you're looking at a kid and being like, look, I understand this is around. I understand you think it's harmless. Here's why it doesn't work to be doing it in school. And I don't. I don't know if that would work, you know?
Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I do think it's interesting to see when we are frank and honest, especially when it comes to the health impacts, whether that will subsequently have a significant impact on a child's behavior.
Well, Jacqueline, thank you so much for trying to answer this question for us. Let us know if you end up doing a story on it. We'll let Nathan know.
CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard. I want to say a special thanks to those of you who left us assignments, Clare, Brad and Jacqueline for answering. You guys were great. We appreciate it. And we're only getting started. If you want to leave us an assignment, please do. First, you can send it by email to theassignment at CNN.com, all lowercase. Now, the other thing you can do, which I really love, because, yes, I listen to them, is you can leave us a voicemail and the phone number is 202-854-8802. This episode of The Assignment, a production of CNN Audio, was produced by Dan Bloom. Our producers are Lori Galaretta, Jennifer Lai and Carla Javier. Our associate producer is Isoke Samuel. The Senior Producer of our show is Matt Martinez. And the mixing in sound design is by Michael Hammond. Dan Dzula is our technical director. Steve Lickteig is our executive producer. Special thanks, as always, to Katie Hinman. I'm Audie Cornish. Thank you for listening.