Chronicle Review Essay: Summer Marijuana Reads

Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup by Mark Haskell Smith (2012, Broadway Paperbacks, 235 pp., $14.00 PB)

Pot Farm by Matthew Gavin Frank (2012, University of Nebraska Press, 223 pp., $14.95 PB)

Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America's Most Outlaw Industry by Greg Campbell (2012, Sterling Publishers, 262 pp., $22.95 HB)

Marijuana is going mainstream. This year alone the weed and our relationship to it will be the subject of dozens of new titles ranging from dry policy discussions to zonked-out memoirs, and that's not even counting the unending stream of how-to-grow books, for which there appears to be an infinite appetite.

And while Drug War Chronicle is into the serious policy wonkery -- look for a review of Kleiman et al's Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know on Friday -- we also just enjoy good reads about one of our favorite subjects. And all three titles reviewed here provide that, each in its own way and each with its own emphasis.

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In Heart of Dankness, Mark Haskell Smith embarks on a smoke-filled quest for "the dank," that special weed possessing the superior smell, taste, appearance, and high that are the hallmarks of dankness. That quest leads from Amsterdam, where covering the Cannabis Cup for the Los Angeles Times led Smith into the underground world of pot cultivation, back to Los Angeles, as well as connoisseur pot grows in the Sierra Nevada, seed breeders in the San Fernando Valley, and activists in the Bay Area (hello, Debbie Goldsberry!) before ending where it all began, back in Amsterdam at the Cannabis Cup. 

Heart of Dankness is rollicking reefer romp through the marijuana demimonde, from thuggish medical marijuana dispensaries in Eagle Rock to pristine botanical labs where the pursuit of dankness is the end all and be all. Readers will not only have a good time with Smith's prose, they will also get a sense of the science (and art) behind those killer strains developed by the obsessed, sometimes egotistical, masters of the art.

Pot Farm is a little different, but still fascinating and educational. In it, Matthew Gavin Frank and his wife take a break after spending eight months helping his mother recover from a bout with cancer -- by going to work on an apparently industrial-scale medical marijuana grow in Mendocino County. They are there for the duration, living miles from civilization on a remote farm owned by Lady Wanda, the massive, elusive, wealthy, and well-armed businesswoman behind Weckman Farm and its massive grow operation. How massive? Well, Lady Wanda has tents for up to 60 people, she has a pair of chefs to feed the crew, she has an on-site, full-time masseuse (Frank's wife), she has a full-time maintenance man and a fleet of vehicles. It's a big operation.

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Who ends up working on a pot farm at the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere? Some pretty strange cats is who, Frank finds. Pseudo-hippie kids, ex-alcoholics and drug addicts, alternative healers, former soldiers perched high in the redwoods serving as armed guards and lookouts, all are among the eccentric cast of characters. All of them, Frank included, spend plenty of time stoned out of their minds on the product they're producing, too.

And then there are the patients. The ones Frank describes who work alongside him on Wanda's farm ring true to me. One patient couple, the woman desperately ill, the man a little crazed, become part of Frank's crew of close comrades, praising the healing power of the herb and denouncing the authorities, but seem to have only an addled idea of the nuts and bolts of the medical marijuana politics that fills their lives. The woman dies in a Sacramento motel room after she and her partner go there to lobby for a bill.

Or perhaps, it's not their idea of medical marijuana politics that is a bit addled, but Frank's. The process in California is complex and confusing; Frank doesn't help matters by referring to both propositions and legislative bills as propositions. Still, even if he gets a wonky detail or two wrong, he has succeeded in drawing an engrossing portrait of a real life medical marijuana farm, with all its sweat and smoke.

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Pot, Inc.'s Greg Campbell was a stereotypical Deadhead college student, stoned out of his mind all the time. But that was 20 years ago. Now, he's a middle-aged family man living in Denver who hadn't smoked in years, but noticed a couple of years ago that the medical marijuana industry was taking off in Colorado and decided to see just what it was all about. As the Great Green Rush exploded there in 2009 and 2010, Campbell signed up as a patient, went to pot school to learn how to grow, produced his own basement crop (replete with the requisite paranoia), then tried to sell it.

Campbell tells the tale of his adventures in the medical marijuana business, interspersing it along the way with forays into the roots of marijuana prohibition and the politics of pot in Colorado and the nation. Originally a skeptic about the health claims for marijuana, along the way he finds an entire subculture of patients and providers for whom recreational use is irrelevant and for whom the medical benefits cannot, in his estimation, be denied.

It's a sign of how far the conversation about marijuana has advanced that none of the authors of the books reviewed here are wondering whether pot should be legalized, but are instead wondering why the hell it hasn't been already. To varying degrees, all three books delve into the Reefer Madness and fear-mongering at the root of pot prohibition, but those are more attempts to explain the unexplainable than legalization manifestos.

One thing that's worth noting is how the actuality of medical marijuana opened the door to the marijuana subculture for all three authors. Sure, Smith was covering the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, but when he got serious about writing his book, the first thing he did was go to a pot doc and get a medical marijuana card. Frank worked on an actual medical marijuana farm. And Campbell, too, got the doctor's note.

I don't think they're unrepresentative in that respect. Medical marijuana in relatively wide-open states like California and Colorado has provided countless people entrée into the dank world of weed. (If I recall correctly, both Smith and Campbell went, with some trepidation, with the old standby "chronic pain," but easily got their recommendations.) All three authors agree that marijuana has medicinal applications that have eased the lives of thousands of patients. Whether that was really the case for them personally, or is the case for all those bong-pulling 20-something hacky sack players, I don't know or care. medical marijuana deserves to be legal in its own right, but if it ends up exposing more people to cannabis culture and allows more people to buy weed without fear of legal problems, more power to it.

If you're looking for some not-too-heavy pot-related reading this summer, we have three winners. Check 'em out.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Shoulda Robbed a Bank

 

http://www.amazon.com/Shoulda-Robbed-a-Bank-ebook/dp/B007Z3SRJQ


 True tales of the 'marijuana culture.'
This review is taken from Amazon.com re:  Shoulda Robbed a Bank  

 

5.0 out of 5 stars If David Sedaris had written 'Catcher in the Rye'..this would be it, June 30, 2012By C. Adler - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)    Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)This review is from: Shoulda Robbed a Bank (Kindle Edition)

I have never smoked pot in my life...nor do I ever care to.
I read about this book in numerous Huffington Post comments. Thought I would read it because I know nothing about marijuana or the people involved with it. I am ecstatic that I did. Funny, Funny, Funny!!!
The chapters are like short stories. Stories about unloading boats with helicopters, close encounters with law enforcement, traveling through the jungles of South America. The chapter about the author's first time smoking marijuana made me feel like I was with him...coughing.
All of the characters were just a group of loveable, nice guys and girls. Not what I had been raised to believe...hysterical maniacs high on pot bent on death and mayhem. They were nothing like that.
If you have ever read any of David Sedaris' books, and like them...you will love Shoulda Robbed a Bank.
And the crazy things happening reminded me of Holden Caufield in 'Catcher in the Rye' and the way he staggered through life.
The way the words are put together are like nothing I have ever heard. I am sure I will use many of the sayings found in this book just to dazzle my friends. A terrific read. I love this book.  

Not to late to try it...

I believe this sacred plant is what we all require to take all things in their stride. The only reason for prohibition is that it is too good and no one wants to have to compete with it... pharmaceuticals, including alcohol, in particular or above all. Then there are all the people making money on something that has been with mankind for thousands of years... Ever notice how all banned "drugs" are the kind whose use you can hide? Not alcohol or cigarettes, the worst of all... but there you are. Do not deprive yourself of its many boons...

phil, i love your reviews and

phil, i love your reviews and articles. u and drcnet seem to be a match made in heaven.

now i'm looking forward to drcnet making these books available to contributors. i hope it will be soon. keep up the good work. it is appreciated.

sylvia, i too find good bud to be sacramental. i too am vexed and perplexed by it's demonization and prohibition. i find this to be just one of a multitude of manifestations of a corrupt culture gone mad. (sigh). may gaia help us.

Some interesting reading for

Some interesting reading for me thank you.

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