Smoke Signals: A Psychoactive Journey Through Marijuana's Fascinating History
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“It’s clear that if marijuana were to be legalized tomorrow, it would devastate police budgets,” he says. “Law enforcement obviously doesn’t want that to happen and they’re openly against the end of prohibition. I’ve also heard the argument that the tobacco and the pharmaceutical industries are against legalization. I don’t think they’re part of a conspiracy to keep cannabis illegal, though big tobacco gave money to D.A.R.E. and to Nancy Reagan’s 'Just Say No' campaign because it was good PR for them. I also think that if cannabis was to be legalized, the tobacco and alcohol industries would jump on the bandwagon.”
As a marijuana smoker, he’s a tad nervous these days, but he knows that now isn’t the time to duck and cover. Smoke Signals, which took four years to write, has thrust him into the public eye, and he’s eager to go on the road and talk about cannabis.
“When I’m interviewed, I hope I’m asked if I smoke,” he says. “Of course, I do smoke and I’m planning to say so. I like smoking pot. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t have anything to hide. I recently told my kids that I smoke, and that wasn’t a big deal for me or for them.”
Lee feels that cannabis has a vital role to play in a society, like ours, that’s running on stress 24/7.
“We’re bombarded by all kinds of crap, whether from the media or from the chemicals in the food we eat,” he says. “The overall effect of cannabis is therapeutic. It’s made to order for people who have anxiety and are tense. It turns down our over-excited nervous systems.”
Lee travels around the country and notices regional differences when it comes to cannabis. Northern California is a world unto itself.
“People in New York have very little idea of how big the cannabis industry is here in northern California,” he says. “They don’t realize that a heck of a lot of people grow, sell, and transport cannabis, that they cook with it, make tinctures from it, and that their doctors recommend it.”
Still, Lee isn’t optimistic about the immediate prospects for legalization and the end of prohibition. He’s also critical of some of the leaders of the movement to reform marijuana laws, though he doesn’t want to name names or single out anyone in particular for rebuke.
“Many of the leaders misunderstood the mixed signals of the Obama administration,” he says. “It’s time for some real soul-searching and re-examination of goals and strategies.”
But he’s not in despair, either, about the big marijuana picture. “People are gonna grow pot and smoke pot no matter what,” he says. “The crackdown on California dispensaries certainly hasn’t stopped people from using cannabis. It only means that they’ve gone back to buying it underground and on the black market. If I do get glum, I have to remind myself that we have thousands of years of marijuana history on our side. After all this time, it’s unlikely that humans are gonna give up their cannabis.”
Jonah Raskin is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War and a regular contributor to The Rag Blog.