Date of Award

Fall 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Public Service

Committee Director

Meagan M. Jordan

Committee Member

Berhanu Mengistu

Committee Member

Tancy Vandecar-Burdin

Committee Member

Katrina Miller-Stevens


Through the years, various forms of media have become political institutions able to influence the public policy agenda. Analyzing policy helps to promote a better understanding of how the policy process works, how problems appear on the political agenda, and why governments choose to act or not to act on particular policy problems. This research utilizes Baumgartner and Jones’s (1993) Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium (PET) to examine the ways in which media attention influenced public policy on marijuana in the states of Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Vermont between 1996 and 2016.

Using qualitative research methods, the researcher conducted an exploratory, comparative case study of the states of Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Vermont to find whether disproportionate attention, changes in policy image, and changes in policy output affected marijuana legislation. Data sources were archival, gathered from Newsbank and from the websites of Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Vermont state legislatures. A total of 4,244 sources were collected for in-depth content analysis.

The results of the study provide evidence to support the applicability of the PETmodel to the understanding of state-level marijuana policy change and the role of themedia in this process. The stability of prohibitive legislation related to marijuana spanning multiple decades contrasts with the sharp increase in legislative activityregarding decriminalization, medicinal legalization, and recreational legalization whichoccurred to varying degrees in the three states examined during the 20-year study period.