Journalist Barcott (The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird, 2008, etc.) goes on a long, strange trip to document the changing fortunes of Big Dope.
Fortunes is the operative word: There’s plenty of money to be made in the marijuana business, and there are countless variations that can be found in the industry trade shows the author pops in on at various points in this engaging book. As he observes, it was the days of Richard Nixon that saw both a sharp upswing in prosecution for drug offenses and a loosening on the edges of various hemp-related crimes. Even in places such as North Carolina, not everyone bought Nixon’s call for the death penalty for dealers, and several states “passed laws that made the possession of small amounts of pot legal or, at worst, a minor infraction.” The pattern holds today: In Barcott’s two case studies of Washington state and Colorado, possession and use of pot are legal, and the federal-state divide looms very wide—even as the public perception of marijuana is radically changing, such that in 2013, 58 percent of the respondents to a Gallup poll favored legalization. No stranger to on-the-ground research, the author secured a medical marijuana card, and he takes readers on a grand tour of dispensaries, potions, tinctures” and his own blown mind: “When you absorb more than 40 years of messages about the horrors of marijuana, walking into a dispensary where it’s all on display, without shame or fear, can be an utterly disorienting experience.” Yet, silly title aside, Barcott’s book is entirely earnest. As the author notes, the feared explosion in crime has not happened in those test-case states, but its opposite has, while instances of racially based injustice and needless prosecutorial expenses have fallen dramatically.
Will the rest of the country follow suit? To judge by Barcott’s useful book, you’d do well not to bet against it.