Review: Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific

by Jun 28, 2016Books, Culture

Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana - Medical, Recreational and ScientificSmoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific by Martin A. Lee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Indefatigable. Argument by avalanche. That’s the method here. Story after anecdote after study after reason why cannabis should not only be legalized but recognized for the panacea that it is.

But Martin Lee’s journalistic style doesn’t sound like something coming from a crackpot (or a pothead). If there isn’t much life, or any humor whatsoever, in his dogged prose, there is skill and there is clarity.

What isn’t clear, what never really seems to get addressed, is why, in the face of “ample evidence,” the Feds and narcs and presidents and attorneys general who are Lee’s nemeses in this book would go to such great lengths to keep people from this wonder drug. As I listened to the book (nearly 22 hours, though I listened at 2.5x speed), my jaw dropped further and further as Lee persistently refused to show any real curiosity as to why so many smart, successful people would so utterly oppose and persecute marijuana smoking. He says they believe it’s a gateway drug. He says the early opponents thought it led to criminal behavior. He says that “big pharma,” tobacco, and alcohol companies have financial reasons to oppose the rise of a competitor. But he doesn’t probe. He doesn’t really listen to the other side. He doesn’t seem to believe that the Feds really believe their own reasons, but he doesn’t seem to want to explore what their real reasons are.

It could have been just me, but it seemed that as the book progressed Lee became even more dismissive of his enemies and less journalistic. He said of one expert witness called by the government, “She obviously knew zilch about the endo-cannabanoid system.” (I paused to take that one down verbatim.) In the final words of the book he called his opponents “venal and dishonest.” Even Barack Obama, despite campaign promises to the contrary, has come down hard on marijuana.

Frankly, I don’t (yet) know what the opponents of marijuana legalization are saying right now. I’m just getting into the debate. But methinks Lee doth protest too much. When a writer can’t see any validity at all in the utterly brain dead opinions of his malicious and demonic enemies; and when he piles on the amazing cancer-fighting, brain-cell creating, mood-assisting benefits of the magical marijuana plant—I’m suspicious. Good and evil rarely line up neatly along us and them lines, and cost-benefit analyses are usually simpler in this fallen world than 100% benefit, 0% cost.

I’m open to the idea that thde active ingredients in marijuana could be viewed as medicines, particularly if they don’t cause the self-control-marring “buzz” which seems to be the Bible’s real concern with regard to the analogous issue of alcohol. If THC truly is an analgesic with minimal side effects and no tendency to cause dependence, who am I to condemn what other people receive with thanksgiving? Who doesn’t want a wonder drug?

But I’m not convinced. The jury is still out. Way out. Far out, man.

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