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

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  281 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
A 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 that

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: audio, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Jason Matthews
Apr 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: every adult
If you’re American, the documented facts in Smoke Signals on the US history of marijuana should outrage you. If you’re not American, you’ll understand the ludicrous and draconian US policy against industrial hemp and marijuana inflicted on its citizens for nearly a century. Author Martin A. Lee pulls no punches demonstrating how the US government has repeatedly screwed over the people in a misguided war that was doomed to fail from the start, a war with implications that are impossible to quanti ...more
Sep 16, 2013 rated it liked it
I found this book helpful because it filled many gaps in my knowledge of the history of cannabis prohibition in the United States. Lee is thorough and concise, but the book is a bit preachy. The repetition of this type of story began early in the book: "X was an innocent [grandmother of 421 children / former police officer who realized the error of his ways / quadriplegic government bullying victim / etc.] and was a saintly bastion of righteousness in a dark and cruel world. Oh, by the way, they ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Definitely an interesting read. As a proponent for the legalization of marijuana, "Smoke Signals" really made me feel a lot more comfortable voicing my opinion, not only because after finishing it I had learned so much about the topic, but also because Lee makes the hard-to-disagree-with-argument that proponents of pot shouldn't be ostracized or treated differently or drug tested or rendered idiots.

He put in writing the sentiment many have felt for years--that marijuana has been wrongfully perse
Sam Brown
Jan 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A revelation. Apparently the most useful plant in the world is illegal, not because it's dangerous, but because of money, misinformation and corruption. Apparently, contrary to popular belief (and backed by countless peer reviewed studies) Marijuana is actually potently anti cancer, has been and is still successfully used to aid/cure such a vast amount of human ailments, that it would be futile for me to attempt to list them. Basically it doesn't make you dumb (it promotes neurogenesis, it's neu ...more
Dan Berkowitz
Nov 02, 2016 rated it liked it
The good; this book goes through a big history of the marijuana and all the political maneuverings around it. Lots of stories, as well as bringing up the other sides view SOME, and debating it.

The bad; Fox news is to conservatives what this book is to pot smokers. At times it falls into speaking about how "the establishment is against us, and we need to take to the streets to push back". It reads less as a well thought out argument, going through different areas like Historical, Political, Socia
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you've ever wondered anything about marijuana then I highly recommend this book. Lee does a remarkable job of covering the history of marijuana. Included in here is how the plant initially became illegal in the US after being an accepted over the counter medicine for ages, the various laws over the years and the fight for recognition of the facts rather than the fallacies surrounding it.

I found the medical history especially interesting. The fact that there are receptors in the body specific
William Young
Jan 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I spent 17 years in law enforcement during the beginning of the "war on drugs" and at the time I thought it was the right thing. Our government would not lie to us about something so critical. Our government would not build a decades long campaign that has cost billions and deprived so many of a fruitful life, based on a fiction, a lie! This book showed me they, government leaders and people who should know better, lied to the American people and cost many of our citizens to lose years of their ...more
David Ward
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana - Medical, Recreational, and Scientific by Martin A. Lee (Scribner 2012)(362.295) retells the history of marijuana with an emphasis on its place in U.S. culture. This book focuses on the battles that have taken place since 1980 in the fight to decriminalize and destigmatize this important plant that has been revered worldwide for many centuries as a medicine, a food, a textile, and a sacrament which was erroneously labeled as dangerous in the 1930's. ...more
Deborah LaRoche
Jun 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
I don't smoke pot, but for the life of me, I've never been able to figure out why pot is illegal while drinking 10 shots of tequila in one sitting is. This book helps explain the mechanics of why it isn't legal, which will tick you off--especially if you don't like hypocrisy. From a writing standpoint, I felt that this book needed a good editor, especially the last 200 pages, which can be summed up thusly: Medical marijuana was legalized in California, but was still illegal on a Federal level. L ...more
Michael Kallan
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and frustrating read at the same time. A very detailed look at the history of marijuana (primarily in the United States); Lee obviously has strong pro-legalization feelings, and they often come out in his writing. Yet I feel this some of this can and should be explained away by the frightening lack of objectivity the United States government (and to a lesser extent the media) has taken over the last 75 years when it comes to marijuana. Laws and regulations based in heresy and contr ...more
Zebulon Hollen
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Smoke Signals challenges the deeply ingrained notions that nearly everyone learns growing up. "Marijuana causes lung cancer, marijuana leads to harder drug use, marijuana has no medical benefit". All these statements issued by the government, not to mention the war on drugs,are completely false. The scientific evidence is there! Martin Lee gives journal sources for the effectiveness of the plant. It's hard to convince someone that what they've always been taught is wrong but its time for change. ...more
Jim Perrone
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A long book that in many ways was tantamount to a textbook - interesting at times - sometimes dense BUT always enlightening. The shady reasons our government uses to continue to demonize cannabis despite actual studies that can prove it medicinal benefits are disheartening and angering. We the people have been lied to - I still agree that cannabis use by teens is not a healthy thing but adult use should be a personal decision. Read and educate yourself even if you disagree - at least understand ...more
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting history of cannabis and hemp around the world and mostly since the prohibition in the U.S. It does get redundant in places tho for me that's ok as I dont remember facts the first time around usually. I am not done w the book yet and am listening to it so really like the narrator. He does a good job. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested as this is the next imho social barrier we need to overcome in the U.S. It is past time for removing the criminal ...more
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“Nietzsche, who called alcohol and Christianity “the two great European narcotics,” was not averse to the therapeutic use of cannabis. “To escape from unbearable pressure you need hashish,” Nietzsche wrote.” 4 likes
“the nineteenth century was an era of great personal freedom with respect to psychoactive substances. There were no laws against using hashish in Europe and North America, where any respectable person could walk into a pharmacy and choose from a range of cannabis tinctures and pastes. After the U.S. Civil War, Gunjah Wallah Hasheesh Candy (“a most pleasurable and harmless stimulant”) was available via mail order from Sears-Roebuck. The average American pretty much was at liberty to use any drug that he or she desired.” 3 likes
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