Hallelujah and glory be to Smoke Signals, Martin Lee’s bodacious new book, which in its 528 pages chronicles everything and everyone worth chronicling in the annals of marijuana – from our nation’s first president, George Washington, who grew it; to our nation’s first Drug Czar, Harry Anslinger, who aimed to kill it; to Cheech & Chong, who made it hysterically funny; to Barack Obama, who enjoyed getting high on it as a teen. The history of marijuana in the United States is the focus here, but Lee – who co-wrote the LSD classic Acid Dreams – also describes pot in prehistoric times as well as in Mexico, Jamaica and Amsterdam today.
Lee’s passion for his subject breathes new life into a number of familiar tales involving well-known names (especially if you’re a HIGH TIMES reader): Dennis Peron, Ed Rosenthal, Brownie Mary, and Valerie Corral, among others, are all here. Lee is clearly as devoted to the herb as any activist, and so he honors the lawyers, doctors, potheads and patients who have committed themselves to the cannabis cause, and – without any moralizing, simply by letting the facts speak for themselves – builds an unambiguous case for the end of pot prohibition. Archival photos provide further ammunition, while an appendix reprints Dr. Tod Mikuriya’s valuable list of conditions and diseases that can be treated with cannabis: everything from arthritis and herpes to diabetes and shingles.
Lee argues impressively that the division between legitimate “medical users” and illegitimate “stoners” doesn’t really help matters. “Cannabis confers preventative as well as palliative benefits that muddle the distinction between therapeutic and recreational use,” he writes. He understands, too, that for teens, cannabis is an “efficient herbal means of navigating the ambient anxieties and frenetic complexities of modern life.” What gives this book its enduring wallop is the author’s unwavering recognition that the War on Drugs is motivated largely by a “lingering Puritan distrust of pleasure.”
But as Lee makes clear, no matter what we choose to call it – pot, weed, herb, cannabis, ganja, marijuana, or grass – after some 4,000 years of co-evolution with humans, this plant is here to stay.
Martin A. Lee (Scribner)
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