‘Weed the People,’ by Bruce Barcott
When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.
May 14, 2015
Bruce Barcott’s title spares the reviewer of a certain age — cured in the smokehouse of the 1960s — from starting with his own weak, drug-related jest. The book has several other virtues. One of which is not focus.
Barcott set out, I think, to write a front-line report on the effects of the 2012 legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington State and Colorado. He begins. . . . He begins several times. He begins with a prologue description:
“The smell of a grow room is the scent of transpiration, of fecund exertion. It’s the trapped sweat of a high school locker room, the funk of a hockey jersey steaming on a radiator.”
If stink were rhetoric, this would be an overpowering argument against marijuana, legal or otherwise. But a page and a half later Barcott says, “I was at that very moment suppressing a desire to disrobe and rub Harmony” — one of the marijuana strains being grown — “over every square inch of my body.”
Barcott begins his book again in Chapter 1 with a long list of “welcome to” gross overstatements — almost, one might say, as gross as the smell of a grow room.
“Welcome to the end of stoner culture with its . . . half-clever puns.”
“Welcome to . . . gainfully employed budtenders with health insurance and 401(k)’s.”
“Welcome to the beginning of the end of Mexican drug cartels, the war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentences.”
Welcome to wishful thinking.
And he begins a third time with a 2012 dinner party argument, during which Barcott, who lives in Washington State, voices his opposition to the marijuana legalization ballot initiative. “Pot. Eech.” A sharp-tongued dinner guest responds. “ ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘This is not about you. . . . This is a race issue. It’s a civil rights issue. It’s about millions of people losing their liberty and their lives.’ ”
Barcott undergoes quick, painless conversion. He is St. Paul on a cul-de-sac in suburban Seattle with marijuana as a leaf of the true gospel.
Then he doesn’t seem to know what to do.
He wants to write a treatise about significant legislation, but provides no political background on the campaigns for or against Washington State’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64. The Democratic and Republican candidates in Washington’s 2012 gubernatorial race opposed legalization, as did the Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper, who is both notably liberal and notably pro-free-enterprise.
Governor Hickenlooper is a member of the baby boom. Given the baby boom’s political heft and known fondness for “the scent of transpiration” (although the governor prefers craft beers), Barcott should ask why marijuana legalization has taken so long.
But he doesn’t. We get no discussion of how difficult it is for politicians, liberal or libertarian as they may be, to propose that Americans become more foggy, vague and muddled. And we are deprived of the best political joke of the 1990s: Bill Clinton never inhaled; Jerry Brown never exhaled.
Nor does Barcott try very hard to plumb the state-permitted/federally banned conundrum. Selective enforcement of legal mandates is a buzzkill for rule-of-law fans, no matter how much they enjoy a toke.
Barcott wants to write a history of how marijuana became so firmly prohibited, which may have led to its becoming so widely smoked, and how denunciations of marijuana’s terrible harm grew as evidence of its relative harmlessness increased. But he turns an interesting story into an angry screed. Heroes (left-wing, oppressed and stoned) battle villains (right-wing, elite and square). No mention is made of William F. Buckley sailing his yacht into international waters to try marijuana and advocating its legalization. Instead Barcott calls the drug “a catalyst for cultural and political change.” Speaking from statute-of-limitations-ago experience, I couldn’t change a light bulb.
Barcott wants to write a story of his personal journey. Except he doesn’t go far — from giving up pot in college because he kept forgetting where he left his textbooks, to “Eech,” to an occasional pull on a THC-loaded vape pen. He records his thoughts while under the influence:
“No, wait, the curtains are O.K. They’re beautiful in their own way. The lacy under one and the rough thick outer one. Nice. Now I’ve sexualized the Quality Inn curtains.”
Barcott wants to write a balanced account of legalization’s pros and cons (as if the above weren’t con enough). Never mind that his book is a strident call for legalization. Barcott presents findings, anecdotal and otherwise, that marijuana abounds in health benefits for everything from glaucoma to restless leg syndrome. Then he gives details of frightening research about what marijuana can do to the brains of users under the age of 25. Triggering schizophrenia may be the least of it. Thus with his head in the oven and his butt in the freezer, Barcott is, on average, comfortable with legalization. “None of the fears of 2012 have come to pass,” he says.
Barcott even wants to write an opus on the moral equivalence of marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. He points out that there isn’t any. Marijuana smokers were arrested and imprisoned for getting high. Gays were arrested and imprisoned and worse for being themselves. This does not stop Barcott from devoting a chapter to the moral equivalence. “The common thread here,” he says, “is the idea that the American people can’t handle the truth. That we must be saved from our own weak character and lack of willpower.”
Not for the first time, I have little or no idea what Barcott is talking about. He needs to be saved from his own weak writing. The breezy, chatty, self-conscious narration falls almost to the level of young adult fiction.
“I have to tell you that hearing ‘the bong’ coming out the mouth of a spit-shined Southern military man is like catching your grandmother rapping some Wu-Tang Clan. It’s a moment.”
For the most part — rutting Quality Inn drapes excepted — “Weed the People” is soberly written. But its editors were out in the unicorns and flying ponies happy place.
“My own hang-up was my own hang-up.” “That mind-space allowed me to make this observation.” “Finally! By the hammer of Thor have we waited!” Who allowed those sentences to escape into print?
There is a good book to be written about the effects of marijuana legalization. And, oddly, Bruce Barcott would be a good choice to write it. He’s a fine reporter. He seems able to get everyone — doctor, lawyer, lawman, outlaw, crank or extraterrestrial bong-sucker — to talk to him and be pleased to do so. He’s even able to get them to shut up when necessary. He can slip into any situation without setting off the journalistic Heisenberg’s principle of altering things by looking at them. (He does not disrobe and rub Harmony over every square inch of his body.) And his print portraits of entrepreneurs trying to cash in on Washington and Colorado are precisely drawn — straight, crooked, wavy or crazy as the sitter requires.
But Barcott needs to make up his mind. He can’t deliver another baggie of a tome full of stems and seeds like this one. Maybe he should sit down and think it over while having a drink.
More than 40 years after Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, America is rethinking its relationship to marijuana.
Review: Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America by Bruce Barcott
“Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America” by Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott’s “Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America” may just be one of the best cannabis books I have ever read – and I’m not just blowin’ smoke and flower out here.
A Bit of Context…
Barcott is an American author with a body of work that hones in on science, the environment, and the outside world, as stated in his biography on Amazon. His writing has appeared in major publications such as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Atlantic, to name a few.
Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America
“Weed the People will take readers a half-step into the future. The issues surrounding the legalization of pot vary from the trivial to the profound.”
“Weed the People” doesn’t just take the reader a half-step into the future; it takes them on a tour of marijuana legalization, both past and present. Barcott introduces the reader to pot-policy in the 36 paged chapter three, “How We Got Here,” which covers the history of use, the emergence of prohibition as well as its inevitable downfall.
From then on, Barcott details his personal journey with medical marijuana in his home state, Wash, and his trek through recreational cannabis in Colo and Wash.
The author doesn’t leave a single leaf unturned in his fact-driven, passionate documentation of marijuana reform. Throughout the book, Barcott diligently gathers arguments from both sides of the aisle, including the perspectives of cannabis activists, advocates and investors; those who have been the victim of marijuana injustice; medical professionals; and those who’re still adamantly against post.
For as factual and informative as “Weed the People” is, Barcott’s candid and often humorous perspective makes the book a delightfully riveting read.
I highly recommend everyone give “Weed the People” a read. Whether you’re in supportive of legal cannabis or not, this book is an eye opener and a very satisfying read.
Not to mention, Barcott is a clever and incredibly talented writer. Subject aside, the author will charm his way into your heart.
Overall? I give “Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America” five out of five pot leaves.
(P/S: I’d like to take a moment to thank one of my dearest friends, Maddie, for giving me this book for Christmas. I really, really loved and enjoyed reading it!)
Interested in having content featured in an upcoming blog post or issue of The Burgundy Zine? Head on over to the submissions page!
For all other inquiries, please fulfill a contact form.
A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com
The Burgundy Zine
The Burgundy Zine is a bi-monthly digital magazine that releases content centered around a different theme each issue. We cover just about everything under the sun and welcome content contributions from everyone!
If you are interested in subscribing for updates or to any of our newsletters, click here.
Review: Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America by Bruce Barcott “Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America” by Bruce Barcott Bruce Barcott’s “Weed the