Marijuanamerica: One mans' quest to understand America's dysfunctional love affair with weed

By Mark Frauenfelder at 11:10 am Tue, Apr 2, 2013

Alfred Ryan Nerz is a journalist and public broadcasting producer. He smokes weed, sometimes several times a day, for weeks at a stretch. He praises it for allowing him to unwind and feel good, but he also wonders if his dependence on cannabis is bad for him, both mentally and physically. Nerz knows he isn't the only person asking the same questions (according to NORML, 14 million Americans smoke pot regularly) so he embarked on a trip around the country to find out as much as he could about the current state of cannabis culture.

The result of his explorations is Marijuanamerica: One Man’s Quest to Understand America’s Dysfunctional Love Affair with Weed, a fascinating and entertaining snapshot that looks at how weed has infiltrated every corner of society (despite the fact that it's prohibited by the federal government). It reads like something Hunter S. Thompson might have written in his Hell's Angels days, had he laid off the hard stuff and graduated from Yale.

Nerz started his trip in Florida to visit Irvin Rosenfeld, one of the few people in the United States that the federal government allows to smoke weed (in fact the government sends him a pack of 300 pre-rolled joints every month, gratis). Rosenfeld smokes the low-quality government pot to treat his symptoms from pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism, a disorder that causes skeletal abnormalities. Next, Nerz went to Los Angeles and paid a "Medical Kush Doctor" $150 to give him a letter that stated, "This is to verify that Alfred Nerz would probably benefit from compassionate medical cannabis use, is recommended by me as satisfying the requirements of H & S Code 11362.5 and SB 420." With that letter, Nerz was able to score cannabis products from any of the thousands of medical marijuana dispensaries in California. (Unlike Rosenfeld, however, Nerz and every other Californian who smokes medical weed is still breaking one of more federal laws.)

Working his way up California, Nerz stops in the Bay Area to meet Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Clinic, the superstore of weed dispensaries with 100,000 customers (or "patients" as Harborside likes to call them in order to remain legal in the eyes of the state government). He also enrolls in Oaksterdam University, a school that has been teaching cannabis entrepreneurship since 2007.

While these experiences are interesting and provide illuminating examples of the mainstreaming of weed, the book kicks into high gear when Nerz goes further up the coast to Humboldt County, where he embeds himself with a group of marijuana farmers. Led by a hyperactive hustler nicknamed Buddha Cheese, the team operates several indoor growing operations. They sell their mind-blistering buds to medical cannabis dispensaries, but also pack suitcases of dope into car trunks and deliver them to dealers who sell the weed for recreational purposes. Surrounded by pitbulls, hard drugs, and colorful characters, Nerz notices the many fat bales of cash lying around the place. There's so much money stacked up that Nerz decides he wants a piece of the action (to pay down his credit card debt) and offers to drive a carload of weed from California to New Jersey. If he gets caught by the law, he could serve 10 years or more in prison (I won't spoil it for you by telling you what happened on his cross-coyntry trip).

Unlike many recently-published books about cannabis, Marijuanamerica doesn't try to whitewash the facts. Cannabis, like other drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, is not harmless. Nerz cites several studies that indicate long term use, especially by young people, can have long term negative consequences. Even so, Nerz argues that the current legal status of marijuana causes more harm than the drug does, a sentiment I agree with. The laws are changing though, as is public opinion. Recent polls have shown, that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor legalization. Last November Washington and Colorado voted to legalize cannabis. The federal government, along with the prison-industrial complex and law enforcement agencies that depend on marijuana's illegality in order to thrive are pushing back. The next few years are going to be interesting.

Marijuanamerica: One Man’s Quest to Understand America’s Dysfunctional Love Affair with Weed

Published 11:10 am Tue, Apr 2, 2013

About the Author

Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the founding editor-in-chief of MAKE. He is editor-in-chief of Cool Tools and co-founder of Wink Books. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects


35 Responses to “Marijuanamerica: One mans' quest to understand America's dysfunctional love affair with weed”

  1. Marijuana is prohibited by the federal government. So how does a journalist and public broadcasting producer manage to keep his job and not get prosecuted for admitting to using it? Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash had to leave Sesame Street because of issues in his personal life. Is a single person smoking pot just not a big deal to the police? If someone is being publicly open about their use, I thought they would be singled out for prosecution.

    • Jason Lederman says:

      Technically, it is only illegal to possess it. So as long as he is never arrested with it on him, he is safe.

    • Cocomaan says:

      It’s 2013. 

    • Nor says:

      The cops have better things to do with their time.  They bust you if:  you are dumb enough to smoke it in a public place, you do something else stupid and you have it on you, you are driving high, or the cops are running low on their personal stash and the evidence locker isn’t looking promising that week.  They’d probably also have to not like you much for that last one.

    • hadees says:

      Because in Robinson v. California the Supreme Court ruled it is not a crime to be an addict.

    • Stuart Smith says:

       The guy can probably afford a top-rate lawyer. Cops prefer to go after people who can’t afford adequate representation, to maximize the chance of a conviction.

    • Halloween_Jack says:

       Clash was accused of having sex with underage young men, which is still disapproved of by the general public. (Whether or not he actually did is still unknown; he wasn’t the subject of a criminal investigation, but rather the target of lawsuits of the sort where the plaintiff is obviously looking for a settlement.) Marijuana use has become more acceptable with every year, on the other hand, and busting everyone who admits to using would collapse the already-overburdened prison industrial complex.

    • Ryan Martin says:

      If he was cruising around talking about how he travels with  20 pounds of weed in his trunk then they might take notice.  

    • Lisa Ford says:

       Maybe he smoked it in Colorado lol

  2. Mark_Frauenfelder says:

    Good question! I wonder what would have happened if Kevin Clash had written a book about his personal life before it was reported?

  3. endrest says:

    Mark, you mention the prison-industrial complex and law enforcement rely on the illegal status of marijuana, but forgot a growing industry –the drug testing industry.  It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that is completely geared toward exposing marijuana consumers.

    Marijuana is the only popular drug that stays in the bloodstream for longer than three days.  Most all drugs are evacuated within 2-3 days, but marijuana is fat-soluble, staying in a fat cell till it’s burned and re-released into the system to be detected.

    Also, the federal gov seems to be contradicting the Schedule I status by allowing Irvin Rosenfeld to consume marijuana for a medical condition.

    The other contradiction seems to be US Patent #6630507 (Owned By The Government) — http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6630507.PN.&OS=PN/6630507&RS=PN/6630507

  4. Mike Lewis says:

    Add to the list of beneficiaries of the “War On Drugs” the US military, which finds interdiction a convenient cover to pursue other goals in Latin America.

    • PeaceLove says:

      Another, under-remarked beneficiary of the “War on Drugs” is the pharmaceutical industry, for whom cannabis represents an existential threat to whole classes of common prescription drugs, from anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicines to ADHD medicine to painkillers. That’s not to say all uses can be replaced by cannabis. But many common ailments respond well to treatment with cannabis — and it has the advantage of not being toxic to the liver, kidneys or other parts of the body.

  5. naufragio says:

    That’s “DR. Hunter S. Thompson.”

  6. CaptainPedge says:

    Is it just me or has some new weird stylesheet been applied to this article and this article alone?
    whatsupwidatshit?

  7. zuludaddy says:

    @ Antinous: You know, there’s a medicine for that…

  8. teapot says:

    I *really* wish I knew how many joints I’ve blazed but it’s gotta be (in all seriousness) around  3000-5000. It could be ridiculously more though. I’ve worked pretty much full time since getting out of university and have MUCH finer attention to detail than most of my colleagues as well as teaching myself how to use most of the Adobe CS suite. Weed doesn’t make you lazy or stupid it just helps you find the path of least resistance :)

    The guy who is getting sent joints in the mail is a lucky man but the govt is, by providing him with weak shit, increasing the toll on his lungs inappropriately. Strong bud doesn’t mean you get more fucked, it means you smoke less by weight. Smokers have been shown to self-regulate dose according to the strength of the weed.

    • Bryce Bauer says:

      The guy getting joints from the government is not a lucky man. He has a horrible degenerative bone disease that is incredibly painful. His situation is so bad off that the federal government openly (but quietly) flies in the face of their own criminalization of marijuana by providing him that much medicine, weak or otherwise.

  9. Jimmy Tee says:

    The fact of the matter is that there is no
    real reason to continue the rampant federal prohibition of marijuana.
    Ignoring marijuana’s positive aspects, each and every person has the right to use marijuana. So therefore, why is marijuana illegal? Let us examine:
    Marijuana alone brings in upwards of 36 Billion dollars in revenue.
    That is well above the highest yielding cash crops in the country.
    The federal governments’ prohibition of cannabis costs them (and by
    proxy, us) 7.7 billion dollars a year. If it was legalized it would
    save us not only that large sum but also gain somewhere between 15 and
    16 billion dollars in revenue (taxes/consumer products) alone – that is
    above a 20 billion dollar net gain ON TOP of the illegal industry’s
    current net worth. The development of the ‘Just Say No’
    message alone cost the US 33 billion dollars – and yet still yielded no
    results, as students of high school age in both the 1970′s and today
    still use the same amount of illegal drugs. What’s more,
    well over half a trillion dollars was spent fighting the War on Drugs,
    450 billion dollars of which was spent to lock away these so-called
    criminals in a federal penitentiary. On average, about half of all
    offenders in federal prisons are serving for drug related charges.
    Many of today’s teens can obtain marijuana more easily than they
    can with alcohol or cigarettes, proving that the legalized and fully
    regulated substances are much more difficult to acquire than marijuana.
    These are but a few logistical reasons behind the generally wrong
    notion that marijuana is something only to be abused – all of them
    proven to be beneficial to no one, least of all the federal government.
    There are many more reasons on the individual level that need to be
    addressed, particularly the many beneficial health aspects. If this
    truly is an age of progression, we must move past this discrimination of
    marijuana as an illicit substance to be abused, so that one and all may
    reap the benefits and enjoy freedom given upon birth.

  10. James Penrose says:

    “America’s Love affair with X” is often used as a way to excuse the author’s addiction to something by making th abuse of it seem universal.  I’d say this guy qualifies.

    If you unwind with several drinks a day for weeks at a time, you’ve got a problem.  I see no difference with pot or booze.

    “he also wonders if his dependence on cannabis is bad for him, both mentally and physically.”  If you have to ask the question, then you already know the answer.

    Use by less than 5 per cent of the population hardly constitutes a “love affair”.

    “Weed doesn’t make you lazy or stupid it just helps you find the path of least resistance ”  Like alcohol, anything that affects judgement makes your personal judgement suspect.  The drunk or stoned can be weaving all over the road or sprawled on the ground, drooling in the middle of the highway but insist they are “just fine”, “working at top form in fact” even after they have fallen off the bar-stool and p*****d themselves

    • PeaceLove says:

      You seem to be confusing “use” with “abuse.” Cannabis has a 5000 year history of medicinal use with zero deaths. Using cannabis daily does not automatically make you an addict. “Unconscious self-destructive behavior” (Terrence McKenna’s definition) does.

      If your use of any substance affects your judgement negatively, you may be an addict. If your use aids your judgement, reasoning, creativity or mood, you may simply be treating yourself with a remarkable botanical medicine.

      • Magnus Redin says:

        I cant say much personally about addictions since I only am slightly addicted to caffeine and quiet addicted to internet discussions but I am sure that there is no such thing as benign smoke from burning plant matter, you get cancerogenic substancers in it even if it smells of childhood hot dog outdoor barbeque or you use the fire to evaporate medical substances.

        Nicotine addicts seems too keep their judgement skills and most everybody over here is consious about the negative sides of the behaviour but it is still quite a challange to quit using nicotine. The definition of addiction that you use seems narrow. I usually define addiction as a loss of free will, its when you want to change a habit but can not do it due to cravings or withdrawal symptoms.

  11. Robert Lyon says:

    James you’re woefully uninformed on the effects of pot vs. alcohol.  We’re at a point now where there are plenty of scientific and non-scientific studies that debunk your assertions.  Alcohol is physiologically addictive, pot is not.  Driving while high has been shown to pose very little threat to public safety unless you’re incredibly baked - far more baked than the average smoker gets.

    Again this isn’t a case of “there isn’t enough scientific evidence about the effects”, as it would have been 10 years ago.  The facts are out there – please find them.

  12. PJG Hendry says:

    There’s a wee problem here with all this.
    Here in Yurp most sensible folks smoke the resin and chill.
    Any sane person from India/Pakistan/Morocco/Lebanon will tell you that people who just smoke buds and or leaves will become crazy.
    The best Moroccan is just the pollen as they use the fibres for textiles and feed the rest to their stock.

  13. PJG Hendry says:

    By the way.
    Wake up America your dream is over.

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