Synopses & Reviews
Alfred Ryan Nerz is a Yale-educated author, journalist, and TV producer. Hes also a longtime marijuana enthusiast who has made it his mission to better understand Americas long-standing love-hate relationship with our favorite (sometimes) illegal drug. His cross-country investigation started out sensibly enough: taking classes at a cannabis college, hanging out with a man who gets three hundred pre-rolled joints per month from the federal government, and visiting the worlds largest medical marijuana dispensary. But after connecting with a mysterious friend of a friend, his journey took an unexpected turn and he found himself embedded with one of the largest growers and dealers on the West Coast. He quickly transformed from respectable journalist into an underworld apprentice—surrounded by pit bulls, exotic drugs, beanbags full of cash, and trunks full of weed. But while struggling to navigate the eccentric characters and rampant paranoia of the black market, he maintained enough equanimity to explore a number of vital questions: Is marijuana hurting or helping us? How is it affecting our lungs, our brains, and our ambitions? Is it truly addictive, and if so, are too many of us dependent on it? Should we legalize it? Does he need to quit? As entertaining as it is illuminating, Marijuanamerica
is one mans attempt to humanize the myriad hot-button topics surrounding the nations worst-kept secret—our obsession with weed—while learning something about himself along the way.
Advance praise for Marijuanamerica
“This book is so entertaining, I want to roll it up and smoke it. Ryan Nerz takes us on a delightfully weird and educational journey that includes crazed pharmacists, a guy named Buddha Cheese, and an interstate road trip with a trunk full of pot.”
—A. J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically
“Marijuanamerica has it all: danger, suspense, nuts-and-bolts reportage, laugh-out-loud dialogue, gritty characters, sociological dissection, and hella deep thoughts. Nerz has talent to burn; this is participatory journalism at its finest.”
—Davy Rothbart, author of My Heart Is an Idiot, creator of Found Magazine, frequent contributor to This American Life
“What a long, strange trip it's been for Ryan Nerz, whose wild tales and antics are the stuff stoner lore is made of. But in looking at how far Marijuana has come, he also poses the tough questions every stoner inevitably asks. Ryan's journey is one worth taking.”
—Shirley Halperin, author of Pot Culture
"Like Fast Food Nation, this is an eye-opening book, offering the same high level of reporting and research....A solid-and timely-second effort from Schlosser." Publishers Weekly
"What ties Reefer Madness together is Schlosser's passionate belief that America is deeply neurotic, a nation divided against itself into a sunny, whitewashed mainstream and a lusty, angry, deeply denied subconscious. He just might be the shrink America needs." Lev Grossman, Time
"Schlosser is a fine and diligent reporter with a real gift for description, and his three dispatches are fascinating pieces of work.... This is very good journalism..."Sam Sifton, New York Times Book Review
"Hypocrisy is one of the indictments Eric Schlosser levels against America in Reefer Madness
, his smart, levelheaded look at the unpleasant truths that emerge when you turn over the rock of mainstream American business and check out what's underneath. The other is that our worship of the almighty free market leads us to ignore injustice because, as he points out in his discussion of illegal laborers, 'giving unchecked freedom to one group usually means denying it to another.' It's hard to argue with these conclusions. But Schlosser's analysis takes a back seat to the vivid portrait he paints of three funny-money zones where punitive moralism, venality and Puritanism grow as luxuriantly as 10-foot-high Humboldt County sinsemilla." Gary Kamiya, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon review
"Schlosser, justly famous for Fast Food Nation
, stares the stats down. He's very much the 'interpretive' journalist, deftly sketching historical roots and sociological implications and bringing it all to life with narrative portraits of ordinary people, then summing up with a frank statement of his policy recommendations." John H. Richardson, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation, " offers an unprecedented view of the nexus of ingenuity, greed, high-mindedness, and hypocrisy that is American culture. He reveals the vast and fascinating workings of the shadow economy by focusing on marijuana, pornography, and illegal migrant workers.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 284-292) and index.
In Reefer Madness, the best-selling author of Fast Food Nation investigates America's black market and its far-reaching influence on our society through three of its mainstays -- pot, porn, and illegal immigrants. The underground economy is vast; it comprises perhaps 10 percent -- perhaps more -- of America's overall economy, and it's on the rise. Eric Schlosser charts this growth, and finds its roots in the nexus of ingenuity, greed, idealism, and hypocrisy that is American culture. He reveals the fascinating workings of the shadow economy by focusing on marijuana, one of the nation's largest cash crops; pornography, whose greatest beneficiaries include Fortune 100 companies; and illegal migrant workers, whose lot often resembles that of medieval serfs.
All three industries show how the black market has burgeoned over the past three decades, as America's reckless faith in the free market has combined with a deep-seated puritanism to create situations both preposterous and tragic. Through pot, porn, and migrants, Schlosser traces compelling parallels between underground and overground: how tycoons and gangsters rise and fall, how new technology shapes a market, how government intervention can reinvigorate black markets as well as mainstream ones, how big business learns -- and profits -- from the underground.
With intrepid reportage, rich history, and incisive argument, Schlosser illuminates the shadow economy and the culture that casts that shadow.
Americaand#8217;s black market is much larger than we realize, and it affects us all deeply, whether or not we smoke pot, rent a risquand#233; video, or pay our kidsand#8217; nannies in cash. In Reefer Madness the best-selling author of Fast Food Nation turns his exacting eye on the underbelly of the American marketplace and its far-reaching influence on our society. Exposing three American mainstays and#151; pot, porn, and illegal immigrants and#151; Eric Schlosser shows how the black market has burgeoned over the past several decades. He also draws compelling parallels between underground and overground: how tycoons and gangsters rise and fall, how new techonology shapes a market, how government intervention can reinvigorate black markets as well as mainstream ones, and how big business learns and#151; and profits and#151; from the underground.
Reefer Madness is a powerful investigation that illuminates the shadow economy and the culture that casts that shadow.
About the Author
Award-winning journalist Eric Schlosser is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. His first book, Fast Food Nation, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year (hardcover and paperback combined) and has appeared on the bestseller lists of the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly, among others. Schlosser has appeared on 60 Minutes, CNN, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, FOX News, The OReilly Factor, and Extra!, and has been interviewed on NPR and for Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, and the New York Times. He is currently at work on a book about the American prison system.
Table of Contents
The Underground 1
1 Reefer Madness 11
2 In the Strawberry Fields 75
3 An Empire of the Obscene 109
Out of the Underground 211
In your first book, FAST FOOD NATION, you exposed the practices and history of the fast food industry, an incredibly visible and popular aspect of our society. Why did you decide to write about the underground economy next?
I wanted to write this book on the underground economy before I wrote FAST FOOD NATION. It didnt work out that way, and in retrospect, I think the two books appeared in the right order. FAST FOOD NATION was an attempt to look behind the cheery façade of Americas service economy. REEFER MADNESS goes a step further, looking at some of the highly lucrative but much less publicized services that Americans seek out.
In both books, you seem to be focusing on the last twenty-five to thirty years of American history. Is that a coincidence?
The book Im writing at the moment, which is about the American prison system, covers roughly the same period. The three books are linked in many ways, and without sounding too pretentious, I view them as a trilogy. The United States has undergone some fundamental changes in my lifetime. Im trying to offer an alternative history of the last thirty years.
How big is Americas underground economy? What factors in American history led to its growth?
Nobody really knows how big our underground economy actually is but most economists agree that its vast. A conservative estimate would be perhaps 9 to 10 percent of our gross domestic product. Thats about $1 trillion. A number of factors encouraged the rise of the underground: the growing traffic in illegal drugs, the increase in illegal immigration, and various economic hardships that encouraged people to work off the books. Most of all, I think, the size of the underground reflects a widespread sense of alienation in America.
In what ways is the average law-abiding American affected by it?
The average law-abiding citizen is affected by the underground every day. You pay higher taxes when your neighbors not paying his. You earn lower wages when illegal immigrants enter a job market. And the illegal drug trade is responsible in one way or another for much of the nations violent crime.
Why did you decide to focus on sex, drugs, and illegal immigrants?
These three subjects seemed a useful means for exploring the larger themes of the underground. Marijuana is a black-market commodity, a common weed now worth more than gold because of the harsh drug laws. Illegal immigrants are black-market labor, and their plight illustrates what can happen when employers exert unchecked power over their workers. And the recent history of pornography in America offers an interesting case study of how a deviant black-market commodity can enter the mainstream.
Why the title REEFER MADNESS?
There is a deep element of unreason in our culture. We tend to swing wildly between extremes. We grow more pot than any other country, smoke more pot, write more songs about pot and yet have some of the worlds toughest marijuana laws. We also have some of the toughest obscenity laws in the Western world but watch more porn and produce more porn than any other country. Although Reefer Madness was the title of an old movie about how marijuana can drive teenagers insane, I think it has a broader meaning, too.
What is the prevailing attitude of the American public toward marijuana today? How about the attitude of our government? What factors do you think shape these attitudes?
American attitudes toward marijuana vary tremendously. A lot of kids now think smoking a joint is just the same as drinking a beer. But other people think that smoking pot is dangerous and morally wrong. That sort of thinking pervades the Bush administration, which has launched a nationwide crackdown on marijuana. Its remarkable how attitudes toward pot are usually based on its symbolism as a countercultural, outlawed intoxicant and not on its actual harms or effects.
Do you think marijuana should be decriminalized? Who would benefit most from decriminalization? What would be the biggest danger if marijuana were decriminalized?
I think marijuana should be decriminalized immediately. Everyone would benefit, even people who never have and never will smoke pot. The billions of dollars currently being wasted in our criminal justice system by locking up pot smokers could be used to prosecute much more serious crimes. I dont see any dangers whatsoever from decriminalization. States that have decriminalized pot dont have higher rates of pot use. I guess the biggest risk would be that if common sense prevailed in one area of government, it might spread to others. I dont know how much common sense the federal government can withstand.
Why has the illegal immigrant workforce become so large in this country? What are the effects of this growing workforce on the workers themselves and on the rest of the country?
There are more illegal immigrants in the workforce today because employers have been allowed to pay them lower wages and exploit them. If the nations labor laws were strictly enforced and the minimum wage was increased to a decent level, the black market for labor would shrink. The rise of this black market has lowered wages at the bottom of our society and made working conditions much worse.
How important or valuable is the strawberry business? Why is illegal labor important to the industry?
The value of our strawberry crop is exceeded only by that of our apples, among the fresh fruits produced in the United States. The strawberry industry is huge and since every berry has to be carefully picked by hand, the industry requires armies of poor workers at harvest.
Why do you think the plight of immigrant workers goes so unnoticed? In what ways is the government involved in helping or hindering the situation?
If todays migrant workers were blond-haired and blue-eyed instead of being dark-skinned and Latino, the American people would never tolerate their exploitation. We would not stand for it. You cannot separate the current mistreatment of migrants from our longstanding racism toward Mexicans. The government has traditionally sided with growers, not farmworkers. The former can afford to make large campaign donations; the latter cant.
How has Americas perception of pornography changed throughout history?
American attitudes toward porn have changed more in the last thirty years than in the previous two hundred. People were sent to prison in the early 1960s for selling material much tamer than what HBO now shows on a typical night.
Historically, what has been the governments role in regards to sex? What is it now in the United States? What do you think it should be?
The nations obscenity laws give the federal government enormous power to crack down on things it doesnt like. The Bush administration has promised a renewed crackdown on pornography, and well see how successful it is. I think the government should let adults read or view whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes with the exception of child pornography and violent pornography.
Is all of Americas sex industry within the underground economy? Why are some things considered legitimate and others not?
Prostitution, the largest sector of the sex industry, remains part of the black market. Some of the nations leading hotel and cable companies, however, are now earning millions from porn. They view it as just another profitable form of entertainment. The obscenity laws leave much of porn in a poorly defined gray area. Its legal until a jury decides that its not.
What can the ordinary person who is outraged by the issues you raise in your book do?
The first important step is to become aware. The next is to make your views known. Speak out, work to change unjust laws, vote for candidates who dont peddle old lies, refuse to give your money to companies that exploit their workers. Ive written about a lot of depressing subjects, but its left me feeling oddly optimistic. Things dont have to be the way they are.