This first time I smoked pot was my 18th birthday. Call me a late bloomer. I was with a loved one who was demonstrably expert in marijuana matters, and Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free” was playing from my birthday mixtape in the background. It was freshman year of college with a soft breeze blowing across the quad and the underside of a tree canopy glowing serenely against the pitch black of a starry sky.
The flowery description in the previous sentence is obviously brought to you by weed. People turn to pot for reasons as varied as the experiences produced by it — for creative, religious, social or medicinal solutions. When and why people turn to pot is a special case each time, but how they turn to it is not. The great public turn toward marijuana taking place all over the world is due to its evangelicals.
If you are afraid to smoke pot because of the legal ramifications or possible physical side effects, if you are in the closet about smoking pot because of your employment situation or your familial situation, if you crusade against pot because somewhere along the way you learned from government or church or television or mom that pot is bad, the solution is the same: David Bienenstock.
Bienenstock is simply the most qualified person to write a book that defends the many merits of cannabis, in large part because he knows the best defense is a good offense. How to Smoke Pot (Properly) is a book that everybody should read, no matter what level of knowledge or lack thereof one possesses about the herb. He has been a journalist on the front lines of the mission to legalize it for more than a decade, first as editor of High Times and later in his video production work for VICE.
What keeps me coming back for more, then — in addition to the wonderful feeling of getting high, and the many lasting joys, allies, and epiphanies this plant has brought into my life — is the way cannabis intersects with so many other subjects I personally find fascinating. Reporting on marijuana from all angles means investigating botany, biology, chemistry, medicine, horticulture, criminal justice, technology, politics, law, economics, history, ecology, culture, and so much mor — and so it never gets olds. In fact, becoming a specialist in cannabis has afforded me what I consider a uniquely disillusioning education in how the world really works. (ch7, p240)
The book’s subtitle is “A Highbrow Guide to Getting High”, the first in a cornucopia of puns dedicated to celebrating “highdeas” about cannabis. The first thing to know is that one must not mistake a fervent love of ganja with actual knowledge about it. This book drops the actual knowledge and lets Bienenstock’s personal affection for it waft up through the facts.
As a public school teacher, I’m mightily impressed by the sequencing of his curriculum, here. Marijuana is a very large subject and the breadth of things such a book could cover would overwhelm a lesser writer. Though each chapter can function independently, reading them straight through is definitely the best method of attacking (or succumbing to) this book.
First, there’s a discussion of the plant itself — where it comes from, how it grows, its chemical properties, differences between the main strains, and then other products made of the plant. The next chapter is a user guide for individuals that covers everything from rolling a joint to making some brownies, and the third chapter levels up to socializing. These lessons in “headiquette” are valuable reminders about how to host a dinner party or how to deal with the prevalence of alcohol culture.
Chapter four is a series of meditations on creativity and historical instances of weed-enhanced art from Amsterdam to Paris to Trenchtown to New Orleans. “So does this mean a budding young musician’s money is better spent on a fat sack of weed than guitar lessons? Not hardly. But I would wager that there’s more successful self-taught musicians on Earth than there are successful musicians who’ve never smoked pot.” (ch4, p151) Chapters five and six are guides to getting a job in the field and going on a “jay-cation”, where even and perhaps especially the most veteran herbalists have something still to learn because careers and vacations are fairly recent developments in cannabis culture. In the last chapter, Bienenstock asks us to “keep pot weird”, targeting women, parents and the elderly as subgroups with a special vested interest in the outcome of the fight to legalize pot.
The best feature of this book is not the information it contains so much as the way that information is presented. Bienenstock proves himself more than capable as a rhetorician, mixing equal parts manifesto, memoir and pamphlet. He’s no hippie. The information is layered in a way that is both amiable and forceful. The writer’s voice is less armchair academic and more friendly neighborhood “budtender”, buttressed by a vision of the future of pot that is truly fearless. Bienenstock’s voice in How to Smoke Pot (Properly) is the model for confident, professional marijuana advocacy.
Because at the risk of romanticizing the black market (never forget the cartels at the top of the pyramid!), just imagine the faith and dedication it takes for true believers in marijuana consciousness all over the world to not only grow and supply the herb under a brutal prohibition, but to then stick with it and try to come aboveground after a lifetime of paranoia and persecution—only to see the whole thing handed over to Babylon System, simply because capitalism tends to favor those with a lot of capital. (ch5, p191)
Your grandmother might appreciate the facts presented in such a respectful and scientific manner. Your local drug dealer might envy the openness with which the book’s author is free to articulate his life’s passion. Your doctor might take note of the physiological bullet points. I would like to send this book to each of the remaining presidential candidates, to suburban book clubs full of tightly-wound and wine-drunk parents, to the Departments of Agriculture and Justice and Education and Energy, and about a million more people and places.
Bienenstock has been at the forefront of cannabis journalism since it was a laughingstock. Now that a serious legalization tidal wave is on the horizon, he is in the best position to teach us how to surf it. It’s a big responsibility, and Bienenstock is up to the task. When read properly, How to Smoke Pot (Properly) is enough to get you high.
“Smoking pot properly requires more than just knowing how to twist up a joint in a windstorm. Duty also requires working meaningfully toward cannabis freedom for one and all.” (ch3, p139)