Election? Major bummer, dude. But the big winner? Marijuana. New legalization measures mean that more than 20 percent of Americans now live in states where the recreational use of marijuana is, or soon is likely to be, legal. The city of Denver went so far as to approve a law allowing people to use marijuana at bars, restaurants and in other public spaces (with caveats). Four recent books about cannabis, although widely divergent in tone, show us how pot has gone mainstream and how to live — and cook — in this buzzy new world.
Just the existence of John Hudak’s book “Marijuana: A Short History” (Brookings; paperback; $14.95) is a sign of changed times, given that it is published by the normally staid Brookings Institution. Hudak’s title there is senior fellow in governance studies, and he writes like one: a little dry, but thorough and clear. His book is a concise and useful overview of the medical properties, history and legal issues around marijuana, and is thus excellent for anyone wanting a brief yet authoritative guide to the topic once considered the province of criminals, musicians and burnouts. A careful center-left technocrat, Hudak writes of trends in cannabis legislation and production, praising cannabis “entrepreneurs” who “have invested in development and become more innovative,” demonstrating “the laboratories of democracy at work.” Published just before the election, Hudak’s book was prescient.
“Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto” (Skyhorse, $24.99; with Jen Hobbs), perhaps not surprisingly, takes a less measured tone. Here, the former professional wrestler and former Minnesota governor unleashes an enthusiastic, if somewhat incoherent, jeremiad against the strictures of prohibition. Ventura’s scattershot arguments are fueled by a disconcerting mix of libertarianism and conspiracy-theory paranoia, and buttressed by citations that range from legitimate journals to websites of somewhat less rigorous standards. His manifesto is riddled with exhortations such as “think about it” and “get this” and “let me tell you,” along with profuse sprinklings of exclamation points — the prose equivalent of repeated elbow jabs to the ribs. Despite this, Ventura is not without a shaggy charm, especially when imparting admittedly ironclad observations such as, “Give a guy a joint, some Jimi Hendrix music, and a pizza, and that guy will be entertained for hours.” Unruly as his rhetorical strategies are, Ventura is ultimately quite convincing about the ineffectuality of the War on Drugs, and on the contradictions and corruptions of the Drug Enforcement Administration, a particular bugbear of his.
If Ventura is your eccentric uncle holding forth at a backyard barbecue, then Mark S. Ferrara is your affable liberal professor who is not so secretly known to take a puff or two. “Sacred Bliss: A Spiritual History of Cannabis” (Rowman & Littlefield, $34) is a brief but scholarly history of the role of marijuana within spiritual and religions traditions from ancient India to modern Europe. Ferrara’s basic thesis is that humanity has for millennia used cannabis as an entheogen, or ritual drug, to stimulate what he calls “peak experiences” — a term borrowed from psychologist Abraham Maslow that refers to brief moments of sudden spiritual insight, “an important response to the panhuman yearning for paradise.” Warmhearted and inviting though Ferrara’s message may be, however, I am skeptical of his more utopian claims, such as the likelihood of “a new stage of human evolution” brought into existence by spiritual-minded pot smokers. More amusing is the solemnity inherent in Ferrara’s stated aim of “encouraging casual users who might normally partake and watch a sports match at a local bar, go to a party, or chill out on the sofa instead to hone an attentive awareness that opens new dimensions of experience.” No pizza or Hendrix here, please.
Our quartet of Mary Jane-minded manuals is rounded out by “Cooking With Cannabis,” by Laurie Goldrich Wolf (Quarry, paperback; $22.99), which promises “delicious recipes for edibles and everyday favorites.” I confess I haven’t tried the recipes, but I can attest that the book is beautifully produced and illustrated, and that the foreword and the chapter introductions are redolent of sturdy good cheer, along with the occasional groaner, such as a recipe that is “‘high’ly recommended.” The book also includes “10 Easy-to-Make Snacks for When You’re Under the Influence,” all of which are surely better than pizza made from Wonder Bread and American cheese, with ketchup for sauce. On this, you can trust me.
Michael Lindgren is a frequent contributor to The Washington Post.