To some it's antisocial anathema, to others it is a harmless way to relax, or provides relief from crippling pain. Some fear it is a dangerous drug that leads to 'reefer madness' and addiction; to others still it is a legal anomaly and should be decriminalized. Whatever the viewpoint, and by whatever name it is known, cannabis - or marijuana, hashish, pot, dope, kif, weed, dagga, grass, ganja - incites debate at every level.
In this definitive study, Martin Booth - author of the acclaimed OPIUM: A HISTORY - charts the history of cannabis from the Neolithic period to the present day. It is a fascinating, colourful tale of medical advance, religious enlightenment, political subterfuge and human rights; of law enforcement and customs officers, smugglers, street pushers, gang warfare, writers, artists, musicians, hippies and pot-heads.
Booth chronicles the remarkable and often mystifying process through which cannabis, a relatively harmless substance, became outlawed throughout the Western world, and the devastating effect such legislation has had on the global economy. Above all, he demonstrates how the case for decriminalization remains one of the twenty-first century's hottest topics.
Quick?what do Napoleon's troops, Asian cooking, Armani jeans, the Gutenberg Bible and the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical company have in common? According to British novelist Booth (Opium; Hiroshima Joe; etc.), all of these have used some part of the versatile cannabis plant. In this densely packed, wide-ranging history, Booth draws on religion, history, ecology, horticulture, linguistics, pop culture and medical research to correct the falsehoods surrounding the oft-banned plant and to painstakingly build his case that the war on cannabis has little to do with concerns for public health or order. Along the way, Booth introduces a dizzying parade of historical persons that includes visionaries, scientists, beatniks, farmers, artists, soldiers and smugglers. Unlike many of the other more partisan books on cannabis, the overall tone of Booth's volume is objective, unemotional and factual-a stance that makes for fine impartial argument, but also occasionally dull reading. At its best, however, the book's attention to detail lures the reader ever more deeply into cannabis history. Descriptions of hip, mid-century New York, London and Amsterdam, for example, help illuminate the role of cannabis in more recent cultural movements. And a quick survey of the myths about the drug's psychological effects shows how laws banning cannabis were often used as an excuse to suppress blacks and migrant Mexican workers. Booth also discusses provocative legal, political and economic actions (for and against cannabis) that have affected millions of people. In his profile of a plant that can be an intoxicant, fiber, cooking ingredient, medicine and potential source of environmentally friendly products, he gives readers a fascinating sourcebook about "the most widely produced, trafficked and used illicit drug on earth." Photos.