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I was recently taken aback by a request to review Weed The People: From Founding Fiber to Forbidden Fruit, by Jeremy Daw, J.D. Always having my “cop on,” I immediately started a Google search of the title and the author. Now mind you, I was a bit intimidated by Daw’s Harvard Law school credentials but I figured, gee why not, maybe I can shatter the “dumb cop” stereotype. Intrigued I asked the author why he had wanted me specifically to review it. He stated:
“I believe your law enforcement experience could give you a more critical eye through which to examine my report of the Drug War’s evolution. And I also hoped that you could correct any aspects of its prosecution which I may have misunderstood.”
Pretty lofty standards, hope I can live up to them. Since my start in drug policy reform I have managed to immerse myself in a number of non-fiction books that have helped me to frame my law enforcement experience with the history of prohibition into a potent message. From notable authors such as Mike Gray, Martin Lee, Doug Fine, and Ryan Grim, I have been able to identify the gap in law enforcement training that has helped to contribute to the intransigence of police special interests in opposing cannabis reform.
The gap in training for law enforcement is, and has been in understanding the history behind drug laws. Either law enforcement does not know, or does not care, even ignoring Chief August Vollmer, renown for professionalizing law enforcement who opposed both alcohol and drug prohibition by recognizing the collateral consequences caused by the law. In 1936 Vollmer predicted the effect of prohibition on America:
“Stringent laws, spectacular police drives, vigorous prosecution, and imprisonment of addicts and peddlers have proved not only useless and enormously expensive as means of correcting this evil, but they are also unjustifiably and unbelievably cruel in their application to the unfortunate drug victims. Repression has driven the vice underground and produced the narcotics smugglers and supply agents, who have grown wealthy out of this evil practice and who, by devious methods, have stimulated traffic in drugs.”
Because I see myself as being a history buff not just of prohibition, I have always been able to discuss policy, and the history of prohibition with the best cannabis activists out there. Yet I was pleasantly surprised how much I learned from Daw’s account of cannabis history. The book is relatively short at only 139 pages but is well supported by research. Daw, as an author, is an engaging storyteller taking cannabis and linking it to the record of man. From the Indus Valley to WWII America he leads us on a journey by asking “how a plant so beloved for its fibers at society’s founding could come to bear fruit forbidden by the full force of the law?”
“Daw, as an author, is an engaging storyteller taking cannabis and linking it to the record of man.”
What separates Weed The People from other books though is the author’s ability to make the historical figures come alive. It’s not just an academic treatise, but a look at the personality and traits that drove this part of cannabis history. From Fitz Hugh’s journey into self exploration through hashish; Dr. William O’Shaughnessy research on the medical efficacy of marijuana, and the race-baiting of Harry Anslinger, I gained a more intimate understanding of how we arrived at today’s culture war surrounding “cannabis.” Yet I longed for the book to continue, and to explore how we can link the past to the present; to help us educate not the cannabis activist movement, but the voters, our policymakers, and our law enforcement leaders.
There are many lessons that can be garnered from this book. The most important lesson is in addressing the racism and crony capitalism that surrounds the drug policy reform debate still today. No different than Anslinger’s use of moral panics tied into self-serving economic interests by his family, today’s drug warriors have refined the same message that helps to maintain the status quo. It is this message that stands out that requires us as drug policy reformers to act to eliminate the impediments to the author’s dream “of a renewed America, independent of powerful, selfish interests, ” It is this dream that that we all share.
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who are interested in understanding the historical context of the drug war, and why we are still fighting it today. It is not aimed at just activists, but can be appreciated by the public, historians, and policy makers alike. I would dare go one step further and suggest that law enforcement itself would benefit from reading the author’s analysis of history. Maybe if they did they could reflect back on the importance of engaging their communities as stakeholders in designing what public safety should look like instead of protecting their own self interests.
1.(Vollmer, The Police and Modern Society, 1936, pp. 117-118)
2. (Daw, p. 4)
3.(Daw, p. 100)