Thursday, April 25, 2019

Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America

First off, I meant to have this post up for April 20, but life has been hectic lately, and as you might tell, I have not been posting as regularly as accustomed. Hopefully, this is the book to get me back on track. I am a big fan of Box Brown's work, and in the past his stuff has appeared on my "Best of" year-end lists. This book is unique though in that I am not really that familiar with the topic and it's not something, like professional wrestling, video games, or comedy, that I have been a fan of. So this book was more of a learning platform for me. Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America covers a lot of ground and includes lots of different insights. It shows, among other things,
the science behind getting high on marijuana
an origin myth from the Hindu tradition
a history of false assumptions and spurious science.
And I gleaned much here. For instance, I had no idea who Harry J. Anslinger was before I read this book, let alone that the man almost single-handed created the "war on drugs" as we know it. It is horrifying to see how much he relied on false claims, racism, and prejudice against immigrants to push public policies that have led to decades of abuse, misinformation, and incarceration. A large portion of the book focuses on his work, and he definitely comes off as a villain, which seems appropriate and sadly familiar to some contemporary voices I hear.

There is a lot going on in this work, and it is well researched, with a huge bibliography at the end. I think it may have benefited from some chapter headings to help steer the reader, but overall I feel it does its job well. It contains all sorts of disparate information and weaves it together into a portrayal of the modern take on marijuana use. It also makes a strong thesis for why current policies and views are misguided and wrong. I feel it is a strong piece of comics rhetoric and history, and I highly recommend it.

This book's creator Box Brown has left a big footprint in comics already, founding the indie imprint Retrofit Comics. He has also created a cavalcade of comics, mini-comics, and graphic novels, including his biographys of Andre the Giant and Andy Kaufman as well as his history of Tetris. He speaks about his work on Cannabis in this interview as well as this NPR interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have ranged from good to lukewarm. Jonathan O'Neal wrote, "Brown’s book presents an impassioned case for continuing the discussion over this very complicated issue, and with “Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America,” Brown becomes an important voice in that conversation." Henry Chamberlain called it "a most remarkable book in how it packs together a disparate clump of facts and myths and makes sense of it all." Kirkus Reviews summed up, "Not as engaging as the author’s bio of Andre the Giant, but his uncluttered drawings suit his straightforward argument."

Cannabis was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

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