Next Stop: Marijuanaland

Inside the making of Jonah Raskin’s journey through California’s Emerald Triangle -- one of the main fronts of the global drug war. Raskin not only describes himself as a chronicler of marijuana, but also a smoker who has a medical marijuana card.

Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War

Publisher: High Times
Price: $12.95
Author: Jonah Raskin

Arriving at author Jonah Raskin’s home on a dusty summer afternoon in Sonoma County, California I was ready more for a type of Federico Fellini meets Hunter S. Thompson vibe than what I found; the peaceful author at home having just fixed himself a prosciutto sandwich. The rustic setting brought me back to Raskin’s latest offering Marijuanaland: Dispatches From an American War (High Times, $12.99) which details his journey into and through California’s Emerald Triangle -- one of the main fronts of the global drug war.

Raskin’s credentials come complete with having been a '70s radical, Vietnam war protester, a courier for the Weather Underground, to chronicling the life of his friend Abbie Hoffman, detailing his own underground experience in the veil of fiction, following in the footsteps of B. Traven (the enigmatic author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), and exploring Howl the foundational poem of the Beat Generation and more. All these decades of journalistic experience he combines with being a professor of Communication Studies at Sonoma State University lends him the gravitas he needs to get access to sources for a book like Marijuanaland, in which it says, “the names have been changed to protect the guilty.”

Raskin not only describes himself as a chronicler of marijuana, but also a smoker who has a medical marijuana card. “The main reason I smoke a joint is that it has the effect of an upper,” said Raskin. “I don’t smoke the kind of marijuana where people say ‘oh, I feel like there’s an 800 pound gorilla on my chest.’ Who would want an 800 pound gorilla on their chest? No one, I suspect, unless you’re a 2,000 pound gorilla.”

Raskin began chronicling the world of marijuana from the '70s to the mid-'80s and it’s central to the film Homegrown for which Raskin wrote the story. “Today there’s unlimited use for marijuana and it can help in the treatment of dozens of conditions,” he said. “The marijuana business is bigger than it ever has been before.”

In Sonoma County, which borders on Mendocino County (a vital part of the Emerald Triangle), the thriving marijuana culture bubbles at the surface of the world above; professors smoke it, students trim it and authors write about it. First made illegal in 1937, the California public lit up to Prop. 215: The Compassionate Use Act which in 1996 decriminalized marijuana for medicinal use. Since then dispensaries have grown in number, along with dealers in hydroponics, head shops, smokers and a cultural acceptance of Pot Culture stemming from Northern California’s hippie past.

But at the federal level marijuana is still a schedule one controlled substance; meaning the Feds do not believe it to have any medical benefits and that it’s more dangerous than morphine or cocaine, according to Raskin -- a policy that continues, he says, because of the “stupidity and ignorance of the federal government.” This puts growers and users in a precarious position.

“The culture of marijuana is throughout Northern California and beyond,” he said. “There are 58 counties in California – it’s part of the economy. Some people think it’s a holy herb and a sacrament.”

It’s also part of the broader Drug Wars focused in Afghanistan, Mexico, the Emerald Triangle of Northern California and elsewhere. And what you find in Northern California ranges from mom and pop growers to Cartel-funded agri-business where, according to Raskin workers are air dropped into the woods of Mendocino County and Mexican Drug Lords grow weed on Federal Land at a cheaper rate than shipping it up from Mexico to feed the monkey on America’s back. Or was that a gorilla?

In his book, Raskin enters head-on into one front of the drug wars and what he finds as he straddles the fence of the legal and illegal worlds with which marijuana cohabitates is profound. Speaking to everyone from law enforcement to growers, Raskin enters this strange world of the shire as he chronicles the vibrant life of the people who grow, who know and those who turn a blind eye to the reality before them. Marijuana, Raskin says, is here to stay and eventually on the road to being legal.

“This is a global concern and just like cocaine from Columbia and heroin in Afghanistan, marijuana from California is a piece of the puzzle,” he said. According to Raskin there are cartels in Marijuanaland, but most growers are not involved with cartels. It was the very war on drugs by Nixon and Reagan, Raskin asserts, that helped function as a “catalyst to domestic marijuana growing.”

Raskin says that despite the fact that people from all walks of life smoke marijuana medicinally or for pleasure, the prohibition on marijuana has lasted far longer than the prohibition against alcohol and, with that prohibition comes greater impacts a la the current global drug war. “There was a great deal of misinformation and disinformation that led to the prohibition of Marijuana,” says Raskin. “Now no one at the federal level is brave enough to say ‘Let’s get out of this.’ It’s a tradition of ignorance.”

Marijuana, he said, is associated with the counter-culture and keeping it illegal functions as a form of racism as he cites the disproportionate amount of low-income Blacks and Latinos that are jailed as opposed to middle to upper-income Whites. Some, he added, say that marijuana is subversive to the social order in society and to religion. The bottom line? “Marijuana and capitalism are intimately connected,” says Raskin.

And once marijuana is legalized, Raskin sees a future where money from the drug war will be put to more positive purposes, where tax revenue may be generated from marijuana sales, where people buy pot at convenience stores and super-markets and where, even, labor laws protect workers in what would be a legitimate corporate agribusiness. It’s a future, he says, for which people are already preparing with plans for marijuana tasting rooms and other innovative delivery methods.

“There’s evidence that there are beneficial effects in smoking marijuana for people with a range of illnesses from cancer to HIV/AIDS,” he said. “People in life or death situations are helped by smoking it.” While not the Pied-Piper of Pot, Raskin’s bias is certainly in favor of legalization and the benefits of marijuana use. His latest book is less about advocacy, however, and chronicles instead life inside the triangle with a journalist’s taut eye. It is a glimpse that takes the reader on a unique trip inside a war that, for the time being at least, shows no evidence of ending.

* * *

For more information on Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War, visit the publisher High Times’ online bookshop.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.