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Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana - Medical, Recreational and Scientific

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  415 ratings  ·  62 reviews
The bestselling author of Acid Dreams tells the great American pot story—a panoramic, character-driven saga that examines the medical, recreational, scientific, and economic dimensions of the world’s most controversial plant.

Martin A. Lee traces the dramatic social history of marijuana from its origins to its emergence in the 1960s as a defining force in a culture war tha
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published August 14th 2012 by Scribner (first published July 17th 2012)
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Mark Jr.
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016, audio
Indefatigable. Argument by avalanche. That's the method here. Story after anecdote after study after reason why cannabis should not only be legalized but recognized for the panacea that it is.

But Martin Lee's journalistic prose style doesn't sound like something coming from a crackpot (or a pothead). If there isn't much life, or any humor whatsoever, in his dogged prose, there is skill and there is clarity.

What isn't clear, what never really seems to get addressed, is why, in the face of "ample
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Here's a book that will turn you into a Libertarian. If you weren't distrustful of government before reading this very detailed social history of marijuana in the United States, after reading you will begin to question every position espoused by the powers that be. The War on Marijuana has proven to be a entirely wasteful and hurtful program, jailing thousands of people unnecessarily, persecuting ill citizens who were obviously being helped by the medicinal benefits of herb, wasting tax dollars, ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health, history
Wow, there was so much information in this book that it took some time to digest. This book tells the story of how cannabis became illegal. What started out in the US as a small time conspiracy mission to demoralize the controversial plant, quickly snowballed into an ignorant populous, hell-bent on eradicating the once common-place medicinal herb. What I found most interesting were the accounts of numerous studies (often ordered by the government) in attempts at discovering health concerns. The ...more
Michael Shore
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book was frustrating.
Whilst the historical accounts are fascinating at times, the author is incredibly bias and it clearly shows.
This does not feel like a balanced journalistic survey, rather like a weed loving advocate preaching for hundreds of pages. it gets tiring quickly.
I'm pro legilization, and agree with many of the points made in this book.
However, Lee fails to acknowledge the other side once throughout the entire book. It's black and white all the way, the pot angels vs the governm
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a 5000 year old saga of Marijuana - The Mircale Medicine and potent provider of Peace, Love, Compassion, Connection, Knowledge and Laughter.

Its getting ridiciulous, especially that medical Marijuana is prohibited in great parts of the world. The proven and potential treatments and releving effects of the herb is nothing short of wonderful. From PTSD, ADHD, MS, parkinson, anxiety, depression, stress, alcoholism, epilepsy, eating disorders, bipolar disorder to many forms of cancer, just t
Joseph Valoren
Aug 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Lee's work is an impressive piece of journalism, and I think it's important to be mindful that this book isn't meant to be an academic work, but is, as stated, a work of journalism. One could be forgiven for presuming this is a scholarly work as Lee goes to some lengths to attribute the mountains of citations and assertions that he makes throughout his to their first-hand sources, but this book is an expose, not a thesis. As the subtitle proclaims, it is 'a social history of Marijuana - medical, ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone curious about cannabis
Martin A. Lee, investigative journalist, has written an articulate, compelling, fact-filled book on the social history of marijuana use in the United States and the corresponding prohibitionist mentality which has forever demonized the plant.
Now, with the states of Colorado and Washington legalizing adult recreational use of cannabis (Cannabis is the preferred scientific term for marijuana), this book is an excellently written, pertinent resource for anyone wanting to know more about this contro
Ryan Barker
Jul 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
If you're looking for an unbiased or objective view of the history of marijuana, this is not the book to find it in. It is very biased in favor of marijuana, it's legalization, and it's use. It focuses only on studies and positive history, even to the point of citing conspiracy theories at some point.

If you're looking for a persuasive case for why marijuana should be legalized or are trying to convince friends or family members, then this is not the book. It is one-sided to the point of rewritin
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Kudos to Martin A. Lee. He deserves the Pullitzer Prize and the National Book Award for this well documented, beautifully written and engaging book on a marvelous and ancient herbal medicine, probably the most clearly mistaken target of the U.S. Government's "War on [Some] Drugs". Perhaps you will become as furious as I did, reading about the U.S. government's decades-long war against its own citizens, one of the best indicators of a long-term slide towards totalitarianism. Although the governme ...more
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Yes, this book gets repetitive and it's abundantly clear this writer has an agenda, but if even a tenth of his seemingly well documented claims are true, we have been lied to for decades. It angers me. While I have a little trouble believing this ubiquitous plant cures everything from hang nails to cancer as the book suggests, I'm convinced thousands of lives are ruined on an ongoing basis for the sake of profit and politics and it must stop. At the very least we must allow for medical research ...more
Gary Bruff
Envision yourself in a salon in Paris during the belle epoch about a century and a half ago. Over here is Hugo, and over there is Delacroix. They are both tripping their asses off after eating an obscene quantity of hashish. Such scenes are painted by Martin Lee in Smoke Signals as a way of showing how weed culture emerged—whether as savior or as villain--and entered the mythic consciousness of just plain folks. Lee catalogs quite thoroughly how and why weed and cannabis culture managed to throw ...more
Nathan Triz
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Highly informative and thoroughly researched, this was hands down the best book on Marijuana I've ever read. I highly suggested that everyone gets their hands on a copy and read it immediately. It's sickening and disgusting to read about the horrible lies and bigotry that has gone on for years and years through pot prohibition and the thousands of lives that have been ruined because of it, but on the other hand it makes me feel proud to live in time where change is finally on the horizon.
Shhhhh Ahhhhh
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I cannot put into words how little faith I have in the government after reading this book. I feel that everyone knows our popular national mythology about Cannabis being unfairly derided, to this day, as the gateway drug, as a sin, as a substance that turns people either into psycho sex addicts or into stoned out potheads (depending on which era of propaganda you're into). This book exceeded that mythology by miles, light years.

In summary: Cannabis strains have been with humanity for a very lon
Mikey Will
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it
FINISHED: July 12, 2020

The subtitle is apt in that this is foremost a "social history" or cultural discourse.

The historical record is eurocentric, with primary cultural introduction as 18th-Century French literary circles (Dumas, Hugo, Balzac, etc.,). This is contrasted by archeological history which delves back towards 8000 BC. The deviated trajectory is less cultural misalignment but more an indictment on the ancient confinement of cannabis towards religious ritual (akin to the yog
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm not usually a non-fiction reader, but WOW. Really great read, though by the end the pretense of impartiality is pretty much gone (I think referring to Ronald Reagan as a "Narc", while subjectively justifiable, somewhat surrenders journalistic neutrality).

I also think that the pacing/focus of the book was a bit lumpy, specifically that the amount of time devoted to the history of pot in California was a bit over-represented. The state's historical relationship with marijuana, while fascinati
Tauhid Chappell
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cannabis
Probably one of the densest books on marijuana that I've ever read. This book goes into many of the facets and nuances surrounding the plant: from cultivation, distribution to chemical makeup of the plant, connection to war on drug, racism and incarceration as well as the overall damage the war on drugs created to communities of color. Also highlights some big names and events who fought to legitimize cannabis and make it legal again. A pretty considerable history book in my opinion.
Shayna Vigliotta
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent social history of cannabis in America. Despite it being published before legalization, this book is the best resource to navigating subjects pertaining to policy, stigma, activism, etc. A large focus of the book was centered around anti-cannabis propaganda & racism that was provoked, pushed & backed by the government. Factual, scholarly text that ended up being extremely useful in many situations defending my stance on legalization. ...more
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was very interested in reading this. However, my remark is as follows. Very little attention is paid to the modern use of marijuana. We choose CBD products more often than the original plant now. It seems to me that you also need to know about such simple things - The CBD has very specific medicinal products and has excellent household products. You must be able to distinguish where what. ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very important, very timely review of the war that has been waged against cannabis, driven by racism, fear, and financial dictatorships. Required reading for anyone who wants to have an informed opinion about cannabis and its place in our culture.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A highly educational deep-dive into the cultural and scientific narratives around marijuana. Lee does an excellent job interweaving dry medical lingo with riveting character drama, producing a lovely hybrid of fact-filled fun.
Phil Fryberger
May 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a terrific book — full of names and anecdotes, facts, perspective, and downright poetic justice for the much-maligned “weed”. An absolute treasure trove in every paragraph.... and don’t skip the footnotes!!
Esther Marie
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
I'm not an American history buff nor a political buff (as in, I don't really read much about case law) and I found this book to be really boring.
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
SO many benefits to marijuana and hemp and still it remains largely illegal for mostly unenlightened political reasons.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very comprehensive history. Took me awhile to get through it, but once I got to the part of the history that was in my lifetime, I found it so interesting it went very quickly.
Samir Musallam
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very well thought out book on the history of cannabis and should be a must read for anyone determining drug policy.
Lila Talcott Travis
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting history of why marijuana is not treated like a medication but like something antithetical to our society (I will give you a hint = $$$). Thanks Martin!
Tabitha Perkins
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic and informative
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb scholarship incorporating the social, cultural , legal and scientific history of this ponderous Herb. In short this book is an excellent book .
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is excellently researched, articulated, and source documented.

I think it can best be described as something of a "People's History of Cannabis" ala Howard Zinn. Wherein, the reader is introduced to the historical uses of cannabis, the roots of it's prohibition in the United States (and subsequent loss of knowledge about it) all the way to the present in it's truly grassroots organizing to reincarnate this wondrous weed back into it's very long historical status as a medication.

This boo
Vincent Wood
Jul 11, 2016 rated it did not like it
This is a book about hemp, and I do not mean High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse. I mean this book is about cannabis, and I do not mean Canopus, the bright star best seen in the southern hemisphere of the Earth and is rumored to have a planet orbiting it called Arrakis, home of the highly addictive spice Melange. Yes, this book is about marijuana, and I do not mean Mary Jane, the girlfriend of Spiderman, but I guess this drug is sometimes also called Mary Jane.

This drug, which has gone by many n
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