The Longform.org Guide to Weed
Great stories about how marijuana is grown, bought, sold, smuggled, and smoked.
Marijuana has been America's biggest cash crop for years and a staple of its culture for decades. Yet the media's coverage of pot, like its coverage of illicit drugs in general, often comes up short. It's a tricky story to report, and a tough one to tell honestly. Luckily, there are exceptions. Here are six of our favorites:
Mr. X Carl Sagan • Marihuana Reconsidered • 1969
Writing in his mid-30s—and, it's worth noting, in 1969—the scientist breaks down the many pleasures he's found in getting high:
The enjoyment of food is amplified; tastes and aromas emerge that for some reason we ordinarily seem to be too busy to notice. I am able to give my full attention to the sensation. A potato will have a texture, a body, and taste like that of other potatoes, but much more so. Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex – on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.
Dr. Kush David Samuels • The New Yorker • July 2008
A journey inside California's medical marijuana industry, with a guide named Captain Blue:
Blue answered the phone, rubbed his eyes, and began rattling off numbers. "Three hundred fifty? Three-fifty? Three-twenty-five? We could do three-twenty-five," he said, quoting a final price per ounce. Assuming a sitting position on his bed, he punched numbers into a calculator and suggested some designer strains that his patient might enjoy.
"Try Sour Diesel," he told the client. "Take that and the Bubba Kush." In addition to Sour Diesel and Bubba Kush, which are grown indoors, he also had AK Mist, an outdoor strain; Jedi, which is brown and fuzzy; Purple Urkel, whose hue is suggested by its name; O.G. Kush and L.A. Confidential, two particularly potent strains; and Lavender, a fragrant purple grown up North. Modern Kush plants are derived from a strain that is said to have originated in the Hindu Kush mountains, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and, according to stoner lore, was imported to Southern California by some hippie surfers in the seventies, and then popularized in the late nineties by the Los Angeles rap group Cypress Hill. Stronger, better-tasting varieties of pot can sell for more than five thousand dollars per pound, more than double the price of average weed. The premium paid for designer pot creates a big incentive for growers and dealers to name their product for whatever strains happen to be fashionable that year. The variety of buds being sold as Kush has proliferated to the point where even the most catholic-minded botanist would be hard pressed to identify a common plant ancestor.
How Pot Has Grown Michael Pollan • New York Times Magazine • February 1995
A trip to the Cannabis Cup serves as a backdrop for an explanation of how the War on Drugs revolutionized the way marijuana is grown in America:
In an era of global competition, the rise of a made-in-America marijuana industry is one of the more striking—if perhaps least welcome—economic success stories of the 1980′s and 90′s. Domestic growers now dominate the high end of a market consisting of at least 12 million occasional users; on Wall Street, in Hollywood, on colleges campuses, consumers pay $300 to $500 an ounce for the re-engineered home-grown product, and even more for the "connoisseur" varieties grown by the kind of small, sophisticated growers on hand for the Cannabis Cup. Peering through the haze at the conventioneers milling in the Pax Party House, Brian R. declared in a tone of deep reverence, "There are a lot of true pioneers in this room."
Kid Cannabis Mark Binelli • Rolling Stone • October 2009
The story of how a 19-year-old kid in Idaho went from delivering pizza to leading a operation responsible for smuggling at least seven tons of marijuana across the Canadian border:
Nate and his friends were suddenly making—and spending—preposterous amounts of money. They bought four-wheelers, jet skis, plasma-screen televisions, minidisc players. "If it had a 'best' option, we had it," says Scuzz. Tim Hunt threw a lavish New Year's Eve lingerie party. Platinum jewelry, deemed not flashy enough, was returned for gold. Aside from Topher, everyone involved was in their teens and early twenties, which made the upswing in their collective lifestyle that much more radical.
Reefer Madness Eric Schlosser • Atlantic • August 1994
On marijuana's impact on national politics, the economy, and the prison system:
Marijuana is and has long been the most widely used illegal drug in the United States. It is used here more frequently than all other illegal drugs combined. According to conservative estimates, one third of the American population over the age of eleven has smoked marijuana at least once. More than 17 million Americans smoked it in 1992. At least three million smoke it on a daily basis. Unlike heroin or cocaine, which must be imported, anywhere from a quarter to half of the marijuana used in this country is grown here as well. Although popular stereotypes depict marijuana growers as aging hippies in northern California or Hawaii, the majority of the marijuana now cultivated in the United States is being grown in the nation's midsection—a swath running roughly from the Appalachians west to the Great Plains. Throughout this Marijuana Belt drug fortunes are being made by farmers who often seem to have stepped from a page of the old Saturday Evening Post.
My Kushy New Job Wells Tower • GQ • August 2010
Looking for a glimpse of America's possibly legalized future, a reporter spends a week working at an Amsterdam coffee shop (and confronts his fear of weed, kind of):
"I would kill to have your job" is a sentiment I'll hear from tourists by the dozen during my week behind the Dampkring bar, though in fact I anticipate the exercise with cold anxiety. Part of the job, I've already been told, will involve smoking weed in quantity, and marijuana and I do not make a happy team. "Paranoia" doesn't adequately get at what I suffer while I'm high. It's more like Ebola of the superego, a self-loathing catatonia of uncertainty and dread. When I'm stoned, Homo sapiens and its customs become terrifying and obscure. Shortly after the first good toke, I can almost hear a delicate shardwork of baffling human etiquette crystallizing in the air around me, making it impossible to so much as reach for a Cheeto without causing an apocalypse.
Max Linsky is the co-founder of Longform.org.
Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.