Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.

—Thomas Jefferson

I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast. —Ronald Reagan

I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again. —Bill Clinton

When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.

—Barack Obama

Forty million Americans smoked marijuana; the only ones who didn’t like it were Judge Ginsberg, Clarence Thomas, and Bill Clinton. —Jay Leno

I think that marijuana should not only be legal, I think it should be a cottage industry. —Stephen King

Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can’t remember what they are. —Matt Lauer

Hey, hey, hey, smoke weed every day. —Dave Chappelle

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table of contents



My First Drug Trial

Lee Child


Joyce Carol Oates

Jimmy O’Brien

Linda Yablonsky

The Last Toke

Jonathan Santlofer


Moon Dust

Abraham Rodriguez

Cannibal Sativa

Dean Haspiel

Zombie Hookers of Hudson

Maggie Estep

Pasta Mon

Bob Holman


Ganja Ghosts

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Acting Lessons

Amanda Stern

Ethics Class, 1971

Jan Heller Levi

The Devil Smokes Ganja

Josh Gilbert

No Smoking

Edward M. Gómez


Kush City

Raymond Mungo

Julie Falco Goes West

Rachel Shteir

Tips for the Pot-Smoking Traveler

Philip Spitzer


Thad Ziolkowski

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smoke: seventeen writers on

going to pot

by jonathan santlofer

Pot. Grass. Hemp. Hash. Herb. Reefer. Ganja. Smoke. Spliff. Weed. Kush. Mary Jane. Cannabis. Tea. Blunt. Dope. Doobie.

Marijuana. The popular drug. The newsworthy drug. The everyman and everywoman drug. Medical marijuana. Recreational pot. A drug for the young, the old, and everyone in between. The drug that doesn’t have you pawning the family silver along with your mother. The mellow—put on a Barry White CD, open a jug of vino, and send out for a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts—drug. The cool drug. The no howling at the moon (well, maybe not) drug.

Whatever you want to call it, marijuana, cannabis, and hemp have been around for a long time. As a food in ancient China, a textile in 4000 BC Turkestan, referred to as “Sacred Grass” in Hindu texts long before Christ. Scythian tribes left cannabis seeds as offerings to the gods. Herodotus wrote on its recreational and ritualistic use. There is evidence that the Romans used it medicinally and the Jewish Talmud touted its euphoric properties. Syrian mystics introduced it to twelfth-century Egypt, and Arabs traded it along the coast of Mozambique. Marco Polo reported on hashish in his thirteenth-century journeys. Angolan slaves planted it between rows of cane on Brazilian plantations, the French and British grew cannabis and hemp in their colonies. George Washington cultivated it at Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello. Around 1840 cannabis-based medicines became available in the US—Le Club des Hashischins (the Hashish-Eaters Club) was all the rage in Paris, and Turkish smoking parlors were opening in America. (All according to “A Short History of Cannabis,” by Neil M. Montgomery, Pot Night, Channel 4 Television, March 4, 1995.)

As marijuana’s popularity grew, the British taxed it, Napoleon banned it, Turkey made it illegal, Greece cracked down. In 1930, the US government ceded control of illegal drugs to the Treasury Department and Harry J. Anslinger, a prohibitionist zealot, was named the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a job he managed to hold until 1962. Anslinger waged war against marijuana with a nationwide campaign that linked pot smoking to insanity, and the San Francisco Examiner ran an editorial in 1923 supporting this belief:

Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters


Clearly crazier and nastier than the vast majority of pot smokers would ever be, Anslinger went even further with his testimony at a Senate hearing, creating an abhorrent racial bias in regard to the drug:

There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others


Though New York’s mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, commissioned an in-depth study of the effects of smoking marijuana, which contradicted Anslinger’s claims, it was condemned as unscientific and wholly disregarded by the crusading narcotics bureau chief.

Meanwhile, Reefer Madness, the full-length 1936 black-and-white propaganda movie, touted the dangers of a “new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly increasing numbers,” that would ultimately cause “emotional disturbances … leading finally to acts of shocking violence … ending often in incurable insanity.” Personally, I found the film’s wild partying, sex, and even murder campy fun despite the pious preaching and bad acting. In the end, you just can’t spell out the dangers of neon with neon and not make your audience want to try it!

The “culture of marijuana” was born (or reborn) sometime in the 1960s on college campuses across the US as students rallied against the Vietnam War and smoked pot publically. By 1965, it is believed, approximately one million Americans had tried the drug and within a few years that number had reached more than twenty million.

Nixon, Anslinger’s heir apparent, tried to crush it with “Operation Intercept,” an attempt to shut down border crossings between Mexico and the United States, while he raised the criminal stakes on marijuana possession so that a twenty-five-year-old Vietnam vet, Don Crowe, could be sentenced to fifty years in jail for selling less than an ounce. Though the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse released a 1972 study urging the decriminalization of smoking pot in the privacy of one’s own home, Nixon disregarded it, created the DEA, gave it the authority to enter houses “without knocking,” and began extensive wiretapping and intelligence-gathering on private citizens. The Reagan administration continued the war on drugs—who can forget first lady Nancy Reagan’s famous “Just Say No” campaign?

With the leap from “just say no” to the astonishing decriminalization of recreational pot by Colorado and Washington in 2012, one can now say the actual seeds of change have been sown. Eighteen states plus Washington, DC have now legalized medical marijuana, and a host of medical literature points to evidence that the drug, in its myriad forms, can be used in the treatment of nausea and vomiting, anorexia and weight loss, spasticity, neurogenic pain, movement disorders, asthma, glaucoma, epilepsy, bipoloar disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome. Recent studies with cannabis and cannabinoids show promise in treating arterial blockage, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, and blood pressure disorders. The FDA acknowledges that “there has been considerable interest in its use for the treatment of a number of conditions, including glaucoma, AIDS wasting, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea,” but the agency has yet to approve it.

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