What are the signs that an idea is gaining a foothold in a society? Public opinion polls and media coverage are the usual barometers. Sometimes, though, evidence can emerge from unexpected sources. Zoe Lee, a lawyer and host of a podcast called “In The Weeds” on cannabis and its legal status in Taiwan, won “Best Show Host” at the inaugural KKBOX Podcast Awards held Sunday in Taipei.

The award was based on a vote of podcast hosts on KKBOX, a music streaming platform popular across Asia. It is one of only two major institutions in Taiwan with a podcast award category, joining the Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award.

In an interview with The News Lens, Lee expressed gratitude to her production team at Ghost Island Media, citing both good editing and the diversity of guests she and her team are able to bring on to the show, from academics to hip-hop artists. “We’re talking about very radical topics. And we’ve gotten criticized from a lot of other podcasters — but also lots of support. We were all surprised that we won, since this award is voted on by other podcasters.”

Cathy Hsu, who cofounded Ghost Island Media in 2019 with Emily Y. Wu, said the show’s success can be attributed to its topic that other podcast hosts in Taiwan are not discussing. Hsu said the show plans to interview more guests on the cannabis scene internationally, expand its English-language shows, and organize in-person activities.


Photo Credit: Ghost Island Media

‘In The Weeds’ went on the air in October 2019.

The show’s editor Yu-Chen Lai said Lee is “simultaneously an insider and outsider, that is — she participates in the community pushing for medical legalization of cannabis in Taiwan, and navigates the legislative hurdles by profession.”

The breaking of taboos is not limited to the subject matter of Lee’s show, which first aired in October 2019. Lai said, “Unlike the mainstream narratives being distributed in Taiwan, we attempt to humanize the ‘inmate,’” referring to an entrepreneur profiled in an episode who is serving a jail sentence for distributing 22 grams of marijuana in Taiwan.

“This has been consistent in our editing since the show has started,” Lai continued. “To report back to the public what these people think and feel and wish for, that they’re not criminals or delusional addicts but everyday people who see something different in this stigmatized substance.”

Distinguishing Lee from most media personalities in Taiwan and elsewhere is her social vision as an advocate for cannabis legalization in Taiwan — a goal she pursues with a seriousness that can be seen in her Gramscian affinity for engaging in multiple zones of struggle.

There’s the ideological project of her podcast, the attempt to change the discourse on cannabis in Taiwan. Lee also has a ministry arm to her work. She leads a law firm, the only of its kind in Taiwan, Lee & Partners Cannabis Law Office, offering cannabis-related legal counsel and representation. Her practice is known to the public as “Better Call Zoe.”

And there’s her electoral campaigns. Lee ran as a party list candidate with Taiwan’s Green Party for a seat in the Legislative Yuan in 2020, unsuccessfully, but she said she plans to run again in either the 2022 city council elections or 2024 legislative elections.


Photo Credit: Ghost Island Media

Zoe Lee (left) with producers Cathy Hsu and Emily Wu at MaiCoin HQ in Taipei.

Lee sees the award as a sign that her ideas on cannabis legalization are gaining currency in Taiwan. “It’s not like five or 10 people deciding that I’ll win.” More than 7,000 podcasts were eligible for the award. (KKBOX did not disclose the number of podcast hosts who voted.)

Lee’s vision encompasses both a better future and redressing past wrongs. She describes cannabis legalization as part of the post-martial law era political movement to seek recompense for crimes that occurred under the Kuomintang’s (KMT) rule. “Because of the drug war and other historical reasons, marijuana has been demonized for many decades. It’s also about transitional justice.”

Lee’s commitment to her political and social agenda, she said, is more important than building a profile as a media personality. “If I wanted to increase subscribers by thousands every day, week, or month, I could be more cheesy. I could use other ways.”

The award from her peers in podcasting seems to undermine any case that Lee should change her approach. Besides, her sights are fixed on the long game. “Eventually I want marijuana to be fully legalized in Taiwan. Maybe not next year, but in eight to 10 years. For now, and for this show, my purpose is to make society understand that marijuana is not evil.”

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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