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Book Review July 25, 2002
Skunk Prose: This Is Your Book On Pot
By John Dolan Browse author Email

Pot Planet: Adventures in Global Marijuana Culture

by Brian Preston. Grove Press 2002 Pot Planet: Adventures in Global Marijuana Culture. by Brian Preston

I'm all for a United Druggie theory. Everybody who's against the DEA is a friend to be welcomed with open theory. Even the most repellent, patchouli-tainted, tea-cosy-wearing, Bob-Marley-worshipping, blond-dreadlocked pot-head is an theory.

But it's not so easy to feel the proper solidarity when you actually have to read an entire book written from the perspective of a pot-head. And a Canadian pot-head at that. Brian Preston's Pot Planet, which is essentially a round-the-world-on-THC survey of marijuana culture, has made it almost impossible for me to imagine any united druggie front which includes pot-heads like Preston.

I'm a drug-snob; I admit it. Everybody is. Every drug clique I ever encountered regarded its poison as the breakfast of champions, and all others as poor substitutes at best. Speedfreaks despise junkies as feeble idlers; junkies consider tweaks vicious reptiles; e-brats regard both speed and opiates as gruel for epicene dotards; and even the wretched pot-heads, despised utterly by all partisans of finer drugs, consider themselves the chosen people, sharing the only Jah-sanctioned high on the planet.

One tends to forget that these pot-heads -- these least of all user-groups, this bottom layer of the drug pyramid -- are actually the most numerous and powerful of all the drug cliques. The pot-heads' "herb" is the drug which has come closest to public acceptance, the one labeled "soft" and regarded with something like tolerance by all but the craziest politicians.

(Note that I'm summarizing the consensus -- which is to say, "the beliefs of stupid people." If you ask me, marijuana is about as soft as the boulders which fall on Wile E. Coyote's head. The nastiest drug experiences of my life have involved that treacherous, brain-shorting stuff. It's Nightmare incarnate for those who have a working cortex -- which may account for its vast popularity.)

With Troops
Like This:

Pot Planet: Adventures in Global Marijuana Culture. by Brian Preston

from the Marijuana Front

John Dolan's
War Notebook

Before all you pot-heads send me furious emails about my review of Pot Planet, you should know that I have tried hard to work with you tokers to change the New Zealand marijuana laws. My doubts about your value as activists are the result of long, bitter experience.

Since I'm on the faculty of the biggest university in town, I've managed to publish several guest editorials attacking the drug laws. In fact, I have to admit that the New Zealand press is far more willing to print radical opinion that the US press. After my second guest editorial, I was invited to join NORML, the pro-marijuana group, at a series of public meetings. It's at those meetings that I learned the hard way that pot-heads are the worst troops in the world, about as useful as a second appendix.

The big day for New Zealand cannabis activists is "J-Day," when all the dreadlocks smoke joints in public and rally for the cause. A few months after the NORML people contacted me, I was booked to speak at Dunedin's J-Day rally in the Octagon, the city's central square. I was hyped, ready to get up there and force the Presbyterians who run the city to deal with a senior academic making an in-your-face pro-drug speech. I imagined crowds of red-eyed pot-heads chanting and fanning out across the city to take the struggle right to the enemy.

But when I got to the Octagon there didn't seem to be anybody there -- just a slight increase in the number of bums sitting on the steps. The only people who looked serious were a trio of well-dressed grownups. I went over to them and asked if they were the organizers. They were, it turned out, the team from the local paper, waiting to cover the demonstration. They were delighted to see me because they hadn't been able to find anybody to talk to. When I asked them if they knew who was in charge of J-Day, they pointed to the crowd of bums on the steps: "I think it's them," the reporter said uncertainly.

I went over to check in and saw a row of sleepy-looking skate punks in baggy pants, doing their best not to look at me or anything else. A couple of them were passing a joint around with the casual air of people trying to be braver than they really are. Finally I said, "Uh, hi, I'm here for, uh, J-Day? Anybody know who's in charge?"

There was a long, sneery silence. Then one of the coolest -- you could tell he was cool because he had bleached hair in his eyes like a sheepdog, and drawled reeeeeally slowly -- came out with this: "I don't think there's like a ringleader, dude." The rest of them just sat there, smiling little smug smiles at the coolness of the reply.

That was my first experience with the frontline marijuana activist. But the local NORML organizer kept trying to enlist me in the cause. And here I have to give credit: this guy, Duncan, was a damn hard worker and a good activist. But he was the only one in town. It wasn't the old "German officer, Italian troops" deal; it was more like "German officer, row of shrubs."

Duncan booked me in to the next demo -- a night meeting at this arty caf?. The meeting was in a big back room. Half the crowd was slumped on various castoff chairs, sofas and boxes, and the rest were still milling around. I had to push my way through them to find Duncan. They all seemed to have dreadlocks of a strange sort: brownish, pattie-like, as if bald people had picked horse turds out of the street and applied them to their heads. Walking through the crowd of manure-dreaded midgets was like pushing through some strange forest of dwarf palm trees. What made it worse is that these people didn't walk very well. I mean they seemed to've forgotten how; they loomed slowly, and veered aside even more slowly, like drugged groupers on a night dive.

But I was a trouper, baby. I got up there and gave it to'em. It was a good speech, if I do say so my own self. It woulda wowed'em in Walla Walla; it woulda killed'em in Cucamonga. But it didn't work on this crowd. They didn't get any of it. Well, they got it -- there were a few slow claps and mumbles of "yeah!" -- but the timing was off; the cheers came halfway through my next sentence. There's a reason Cheech & Chong were that slow, and told the "Dave's not here" joke ten times in a row: they understood the mental metabolism of the pot-head in a way I just don't.

This year I was at J-Day, ready to try again. Duncan was there, trying to organize his human shrubs, muttering about how embarrassed he was because his friends who were supposed to set up the sound system hadn't shown up. The reporter came, saw that there was nothing to report, and left, long before the hippie bus with the amplifiers and turntables finally chugged into sight. Then we waited for them to get set up. This, of course, was a Cheech & Chong routine in itself. "Wire? What wire, man?"

Finally they were ready: 20 minutes of Peter Tosh blasting out of the speakers to warm up the crowd, then the first speaker: me. This time I tried to keep it simple and punchy: I told horror stories about harmless stoners thrown in prison to be gangraped while wifebeaters and drunk drivers got off with probation, then tried to work the crowd up by telling them the hard fact that NZ politicians felt that stoners were so disorganized and feeble they could be safely ignored. "Prove'em wrong!" I shouted, then repeated the exhortation (I'd learned by now that when talking to stoners, ALWAYS REPEAT YOURSELF.) But they were off with the fairies; they were looking off into the ether, just like the skate punks had been last year. I didn't get it.

The next speaker got up. She had all the advantages: she was smart, she was funny, she was representing the Greens, the only party in NZ to take a stand against Prohibition...and they were as dead to her as they had been to me. It was downright weird.

I ran into Duncan after the demo wound down and said, "Boy, what a tough crowd this is!" And he explained it in a way so obvious, so simple that I was ashamed not to've seen it: "They were stoned," he said. Of course! They were stoned! That's what "stoned" is: that stupefied cool, brain unplugged and attitude on, that had bewildered me for so much of my youth.

So you see, you stoners: I didn't come by my contempt for your potential as anti-DEA allies casually. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, I went as far as I could with you waterheads. There's just no point in courting you, because you're worthless troops. With troops like this, you couldn't take a sauna.

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