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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Review: Smoke Signals by Martin A. Lee - reviewed by Joe Dauphinais


     This book is incredible. Published in 2012, this thoroughly researched book is a comprehensive history of cannabis focusing mostly in the western world, spanning the millennia from the bronze age all the way to the Obama administration. With fully documented sources, and interesting footnotes accompanying the main text, this is one of the most highly organized and complete narratives currently available on the subject of marijuana.

     Told chronologically, the story begins with a brief explanation of how the plant arrived in the Americas during the days of the slave trade, and gives a quick synopsis of how cannabis was utilized through the 1800’s. The heart of the story begins at prohibition, and sheds light on the ‘budding’ jazz scene, complete with anecdotes and quotes from famous musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow. Through reading this book, you can learn the murky origins of cannabis prohibition, a racially motivated act that would jail a disproportionate number of minorities in the decades that follow.

     Lee continues breaking down the truth by exposing much of the hypocrisy and injustices which occurred in the decades following the prohibition of cannabis. With a keen insight, Martin Lee describes the struggle of the medical marijuana movement in California, as well as other states. The only complaint I have is that the second half of the book focuses much of its attention on California, and at times seemed to be bogged down by it, but I can see the importance of documenting what went down on the west coast, as a warning of how things can go wrong, as well as an example of how to do things right. Personally, I would have preferred a little more coverage of Michigan, although I was happy to see mention of John Sinclair, as well as the Ann Arbor Hash Bash. Mr. Lee also reports on the multitude of medical uses of the herb, and is backed up with plenty of reliable sources.

     I can imagine this book entertaining a wide range of readers. While not much of the information in this book was new to me, the way it was presented and organized chronologically was a refreshing and much appreciated take on a subject that too often not taken seriously enough. In all, I would suggest this book to anyone with an interest in the subjects of cannabis, jazz, history, alternative medicine, or social commentary.

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