There are currently more than 5,200 English language books in print about cannabis—enough to fill a small library’s shelves. From tomes on horticulture and botany to recipes to legal and political history to the tales of poets and lovers, musicians and dreamers, entrepreneurs, rogues, and outlaws, they represent a rich portrait of America’s contrasting mores about cannabis.
From the author of Marijuana Nation, here is a list of top pot books.
The Hasheesh Eater: Being passages from the Life of a Pythagorean by Fitz Hugh Ludlow (1857)
Ludlow wrote eloquently of his experiments with Tilden’s Extract, six cents a dose at the village apothecary in Poughkeepsie, NY. The son of an abolitionist minister and a keen student of Greek and Latin classical studies while in college, Ludlow brought a spirit of philosophical inquiry to his cannabis-induced altered states of consciousness. Ultimately, his fascination with the drug gave way to compulsion and a struggle to break the habit. The Hasheesh Eater is among the seminal autobiographical writings on drug-induced altered states, and the book has been repeatedly reprinted and reissued.
Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know by Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, & Mark Kleiman (2012)
Just before the 2012 historic legalization votes in Colorado and Washington state, these policy wonks gave us readable bite-sized answers to 150 of the most commonly asked question about pot and legalization. A few samples: Has marijuana been getting more potent? Would legalization increase marijuana use and dependence? What special regulations could apply to legal marijuana? Here the reader is offered alternative ways legalization might be designed, how pot might be taxed, and whether advertising might be restricted. The book’s purpose is made clear in the introduction: “(We) have done our best in this book to lay out the issues as clearly as we could. The rest is up to you.”
Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate by Robin Room, Benedikt Fischer, Wayne Hall, Simon Lenton, & Peter Reuter (2010)
A 1961 international treaty and subsequent amendments unequivocally prohibit the production and use of marijuana, yet there has been a building momentum among signatories to move away from criminal sanctions. Cannabis Policy offers a detailed country-by-country account of evolving marijuana law reforms and their impact. The Dutch coffee shops are well known, but what kinds of reforms have been adopted in Spain, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and the dozens of other nations that have modified their laws? Ostensibly, the direction in which the liberalization movement is headed and the requirements of the international drug control conventions are at an impasse. A key contribution from these authors is an exit strategy—that is, a draft of a new international treaty to replace one that has become increasingly irrelevant.
The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis—Its Role in Medicine, Politics, Science, and Culture edited by Julie Holland (2010)
For this highly informative reference work on all things cannabis, Julie Holland, a physician on the NYU School of Medicine faculty, sought contributions from experts in a number of medical disciplines, history, and the social sciences. What makes her book stand apart, however, is its inclusion of chapters (e.g., “On Ending Prohibition,” “MAPS and the Federal Obstruction of Medical Marijuana Research”) by leading policy reformers. Even as the contributors converge to make a strong case for new laws, the book passes the skeptic’s veracity test by clearly and honestly discussing the risks of cannabis use to health and safety. And then the frosting: All of the book’s proceeds go to support medical marijuana research.
Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years by Earnest Abel (1980)
Instantly hooked by the title, I found the author gave what the title promised. Abel’s thorough research takes one on an adventure, beginning in the Stone Age on the island of Taiwan: “These simple pots, with their patterns of twisted fiber embedded in their sides, suggest that men have been using the marihuana plant in some manner since the dawn of history.” The plant’s footprints are followed through Africa, Europe, and the Americas: a funerary urn in a German tomb, a Satanic mass ointment condemned by Pope Innocent VIII, the rigging on 15th-century Venetian ships, Cab Calloway’s “That Funny Reefer Man” in the ’30s jazz era, and so much more. Today’s euphoria and angst each have very deep roots.
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan (2001)
It’s about reciprocity, the give and take between the human needs for sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and sustenance, and the evolution of plants to meet those needs: the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. One reviewer aptly noted that The Botany of Desire pollinates the reader’s mind, illuminating the plant’s perspective, not the least of which involves ramping up its appeal to ensure its survival. Here, efforts to suppress marijuana are seen as one factor in the plant’s hybridization and increased potency. One wonders. Did I choose to vote to regulate and tax marijuana, or did the plant make me do it?
High in America: The True Story behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana by Patrick Anderson (1981)
By now, the pantheon of leaders in the decades-long march toward marijuana law reform includes hundreds of prominent activists. Yet, without question the person who for many years held the #1 spot, literally the movement’s granddaddy, is Keith Stroup, a public interest lawyer who in 1970 founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. This is Keith’s story, a history resonant with color—hanging with Willie Nelson on his tour bus, enlisting Chip Carter’s support in convincing his dad to back decriminalization, lobbying members of Congress, railing against U.S. funding of the Mexican government to spray a toxic pesticide on marijuana fields, and building what became a nationwide grass-roots organization. This is also the story of NORML’s flameout in the late ’70s, the outing and resignation of a key White House advisor for having used cocaine at a NORML party, and the powerful pushback to reform as conservative America put Ronald Reagan in the White House.
Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes by Terry Southern (1955)
“What, that heavy gage? said C.K., raising his eyebrows in surprise at the suggestion. “Shoot, that ain’t no workin’-hour gage there, that’s your Sunday gage….” Twelve-year-old Harold, a white boy talking with C.K., a black fieldhand employed by Harold’s dad, is being taught about red-dirt marijuana, a bush of which they’d discovered in a field about 20 feet from Maybelle, a cow lying on its stomach, its head stretched out on the ground, quietly chewing its cud “in a rhythmic and contented manner.” Southern, the iconoclastic writer reputedly responsible for the memorable final scene in Dr. Strangelove in which Slim Pickins rides an atomic bomb to Earth, is described by Norman Mailer as writing with “clear, mean, coolly deliberate, and murderous prose.” Here are 24 short stories, each quintessentially quirky and, some would think, touched by lunacy.
Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup by Mark Haskell Smith (2012)
A travelogue of the drug-testing labs at Pfizer, Eli Lilly, or GlaxoSmithKline would likely be soporific. In Heart of Dankness, in contrast, we visit a parallel pharmaceutical industry, this one exclusively consisting of artisanal growers, botanists, and connoisseurs. Reporting for the Los Angeles Times and with a State of California medical marijuana recommendation in his pocket, Haskell travels to Amsterdam to check out the annual High Times Cannabis Cup, “the Super Bowl of cannabis, the Mardi Gras of marijuana, the stoner equivalent of the Olympic Games for the botanists, growers, seed companies, and coffeeshops who compete.” There’s insight here, conveyed with infectious humor, about a sophisticated scientific industry commonly cloaked in stigma.
Budding Prospects: A Pastoral by T. Coraghessan Boyle (1984)
“I’ve always been a quitter.” With that introduction, we meet Felix, 31 years old, brought low by a litany of life’s challenges, each of which got the better of him, and about to be offered a deal he can’t refuse. In this laugh-out-loud satire of get-rich-quick sensimilla outlaws in Mendicino County in the early ’80s, we’re treated to a paranoia-infused concoction of one part bone-headed Cheech and Chong and another part Hunter S. Thompson gonzo haplessness. Visiting this “summer camp” is a classic nostalgia trip.