Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and if this season’s marijuana-related books are any indication, the topic of weed—once alternative, now increasingly mainstream—is burning up. Forthcoming titles include user’s guides, cocktail recipe books, takes on the global legalization debate, and more, all of which aim to help readers enjoy, or at least contemplate, our new, greener times. The trend is all the more notable because large publishers are doing as much as their smaller counterparts to light up interest in the subject.
As with any topic making its way from the margins to the mainstream, marijuana requires some introduction. Several recent and forthcoming titles take as their subject the very basics of cannabis—what it is, where it comes from, how it works, and how to use it.
One such book is the recently released How to Smoke Pot Properly (Plume) by David Bienenstock, a contributor to Vice and head of content at High Times; the book offers facts about the legalization debate and marijuana agriculture as well as tips for buying and using; one chapter is titled “Should I Eat a Pot Brownie Before Boarding a Plane?”
Kate Napolitano, senior editor at Plume, says she acquired the book in part because she saw a gap in the market. “There are weed books that have worked really well, but nothing quite addressing the post-prohibition era,” she says. She adds that she and Bienenstock strove to appeal to a general audience while at the same time “keeping pot weird.”
That impulse connects to a larger question facing the cannabis community today: How do you protect weed’s subcultural integrity from co-option by mass culture, to say nothing of big business? Microsoft, for example, recently unveiled weed-tracking technology that allows states to keep tabs on legal transactions. “There’s a certain irreverence to pot culture,” Napolitano says. “We wanted to preserve that, but we also wanted to provide facts for people who want to learn more about pot.”
Sasquatch Books, located in Seattle—one of four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use—also recently released a pot primer: Weed: The User’s Guide by David Schmader, former associate editor of Seattle alt-weekly the Stranger. Subtitled A 21st Century Handbook for Enjoying Marijuana, the book includes chapters on basics such as methods of ingestion, varieties and effects, marijuana etiquette, and what to do “if you’re high and don’t like it.”
A just-the-facts approach has buoyed the Idiot’s Guides for over two decades, and June saw the release of Growing Marijuana (Alpha). The book, by Kevin Oliver and Chadd McKeen, is the first of the Idiot’s Guides to address marijuana. Mike Sanders, publisher at Alpha, says his team waited for clear indications that mainstream culture had begun to embrace weed before proceeding. “We didn’t want to publish on this topic until public support for legalization had exceeded 50% in states that are passing recreational-use laws,” he says. Sanders cites figures showing that public support has now reached 61% in 25 states and D.C., with more than a dozen ballot initiatives in the works. “We think the topic has reached its watershed moment.”
Decades before this watershed moment, George F. Van Patten, under the pen name Jorge Cervantes, self-published Indoor Marijuana Horticulture in 1983. The fifth edition, now titled Marijuana Horticulture (2006), has sold almost a quarter million copies according to outlets reporting to Nielsen BookScan. His other self-published titles include, most recently, 2015’s The Cannabis Encyclopedia, a more comprehensive guide to marijuana cultivation. Part of the reason Cervantes decided to publish a new book, he says, is that cannabis horticulture has become far more sophisticated in recent years. Whereas previously growers and users had to rely on what he calls “emotional terms” to describe the strength of a given strain, “now you have data that tells you the percentage of cannabinoids,” he says. “It’s like the Wild West. It’s going at warp speed.”
Cervantes acknowledges the evolution in cultural attitudes toward marijuana since he published his first book. He cites the day in 1989, known in cannabis circles as Black Thursday, when the DEA, in a coordinated bust code-named Operation Green Merchant, raided marijuana-horticulture operations in 46 states and arrested scores of people. Cervantes evaded arrest, but he did leave the country for a few years. Now, he says, when he attends marijuana-related shows and conventions, he sees a lot of people in suits. “It’s a different world.”
The Weed Life
Regardless of its legal status, cannabis has been used in myriad ways—spiritual, medicinal, and recreational—for centuries, and several forthcoming titles seek to enhance or explain its various applications.
Joining the adult-coloring-book trend, and perhaps offering insight into its popularity, is The Stoner’s Coloring Book by Jared Hoffman, recently released by TarcherPerigee. Those seeking a more physically active weed accompaniment may turn to Ganja Yoga by Dee Dussault (HarperOne, April 2017), a Bay Area yoga instructor who offers cannabis-enhanced classes.
In February 2017, Square One is releasing Healing with Medical Marijuana by Mark Sircus, an acupuncturist and alternative-medicine practitioner. His first book with the publisher, 2014’s Sodium Bicarbonate, subtitled Nature’s Unique First Aid Remedy, has sold almost 13,000 print copies, according to BookScan.
Other books examine the relationship between weed and spirituality. Sacred Bliss (Rowman & Littlefield, Oct.) by Mark Ferrara, a professor of English at SUNY Oneonta, shows how cannabis has been used across cultures and centuries to increase creativity and heighten perception. Cannabis and Spirituality (Inner Traditions, Jan. 2017), edited by Stephen Gray, amasses meditations on the deeper aspects of cannabis use from 18 contributors.
The latter title is only the newest marijuana-focused book from Vermont-based indie press Inner Traditions. The publisher’s output on the topic includes The Pot Book, edited by physician Julie Holland (2010), which has sold more than 16,000 print copies according to BookScan; Marijuana Medicine by Christian Ratsch (2001); and The Great Book of Hemp (1995).
Jon Graham, an acquisitions editor at Inner Traditions, says that before weed went mainstream, the publisher felt a bit like a lone wolf. “A lot of the authors who came to us had been shopping their books around and were told, in no uncertain terms, that the subject was too controversial,” he says. Now he expects the field to become more competitive, citing alternative medicine as an object lesson: “When I started [at Inner Traditions 20 years ago], alternative medicine was still a niche market. Of course, that transformed overnight. Now it’s a solid part of everyone’s list.” (For more books on the intersection of drugs and spirituality, check out "Drugs and the Divine.")
Beyond the Munchies
Combining weed and food is nothing new, but this season’s cannabis-inspired cookbooks and cocktail guides suggest that high cuisine has moved beyond pot brownies and cans of Pringles. Two titles offer recipes that disregard longtime caution against “cross-fading” (mixing weed and alcohol). The Book of Dangerous Cocktails by Dylan March and Jennifer Boudinot (St. Martin’s, Oct.) includes, among libations such as flaming shots, instructions for an assortment of cannabis-infused concoctions. Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics (Fair Winds Press, out now) by Warren Bobrow, who blogs at the Cocktail Whisperer, explores not only weed-infused mixed drinks but also butters, oils, and syrups. Bobrow’s 2013 book with Fair Winds, Apothecary Cocktails, has sold 7,000 print copies according to BookScan.
On the edibles side, there’s The 420 Gourmet (Harper Wave, Aug.) by Jeff the 420 Chef, whose cooking has received coverage by media outlets such as Vanity Fair and Newsweek. He offers dishes for a variety of meals and courses—breakfast and brunch, mains and sides, sweets and snacks, and more—with recipe names such as Eggs Canna-Dict with Cherry-Pepper Bacon, and Potzo Ball Soup.
Another marijuana cookbook comes from one of Bob Marley’s daughters, Cedella. The Marley Family Cookbook (Avery, Aug. 2017) includes edible recipes as well as tips on cultivating cannabis and incorporating the substance in one’s beauty routine.
Laurie Wolf, who lives in Portland, Ore., and is the author or coauthor of four recent and forthcoming cannabis cookbooks, says that many people are eager to experiment with marijuana but are wary of the effects of smoking—hence the appeal of cannabis cooking. “It’s a whole new demographic of people who either avoided pot when they were younger, or people who stopped for those responsible years”—meaning when they started jobs and had kids. In addition to these readers, Wolf says, her recipes are for those who use marijuana for medical reasons; she began consuming edibles to counteract a seizure disorder. “As much fun as cannabis is, it really is a fabulous medicine,” she says.
Wolf’s weed cookbooks include 2015’s Herb (Inkshares), coauthored by cannabis chef Melissa Parks, which has sold more than 4,600 copies in hardcover and trade paperback, according to BookScan; 2016’s The Medical Marijuana Dispensary (Inkshares), coauthored by Mary Wolf, Laurie Wolf’s daughter-in-law and business partner; Marijuana Edibles (DK), also coauthored by Mary, which was published in mid-July; and Cooking with Cannabis (Quarry, Aug.).
Shifts in Consciousness
Regardless of whether you like to smoke (or eat, or drink) weed, you’re probably aware of how dramatically attitudes toward the drug have changed in the U.S. in recent years. That change constitutes the focus of several forthcoming books that look at the current marijuana debate.
These include Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto (Skyhorse, Oct.), a pro-legalization take from the former pro wrestler and Minnesota governor, who dedicated the book to “my dear friend Tommy Chong, who taught me a great deal about cannabis.” In it, Ventura calls for an end to the war on drugs and discusses cannabis’s many applications. “If God created everything on earth for us to use,” he writes, “how dare we try to eradicate a plant that He put here for countless uses?”
Another take on the marijuana debate comes from Joe Dolce, former editor-in-chief of Details and Star. In Brave New Weed (Harper Wave, Oct.), he looks at the history and future of cannabis in places as diverse as Amsterdam, Colorado, and Israel. Sarah Murphy, editor at Harper Wave, says that the book investigates the history of marijuana’s criminalization as well as its prospects as a commodity. “It’s a booming industry that’s just about to take off,” she says.
A wonkier look at weed’s history comes from Brookings Institution Press, which will bring out Marijuana: A Short History by John Hudak, a deputy director and senior fellow at Brookings, in October. Hudak, whose work focuses in part on marijuana policy, looks at how the plant has emerged as not only a fixture of mass culture but also a “serious, even mainstream, public policy issue,” according to the publisher.
The history of cannabis as a source of sometimes-volatile political debate in the U.S. serves as the subject of Emily Dufton’s forthcoming book, tentatively titled Grassroots, which is due from Basic Books in fall 2017. According to Ben Platt, editor at Basic, Dufton, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Public Integrity, looks at the marijuana debate that captivated the country in the 1960s and ’70s, offering a “holistic portrait of what it means for a country to fight over a substance.” He adds that examining the history of the debate and the rise and fall of the decriminalization movement in the 1970s can shed sobering light on the idea that legalization is a “foregone conclusion.” Citing the recent Brexit vote, he points out that “political certainties get overturned all the time.”
Daniel Lefferts is a writer living in New York.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that David Bienenstock is a former editor at High Times. He has since returned to the organization as head of content.