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on September 18, 2013
Before I write this brief review, it would be good for the reader to know that I'm a 53-year-old father of two teenagers and has been happily married for over 30 years. I've tried marijuana four times in my life: a few tokes off a joint in my late teens; two incidences when I unknowingly ate pot-laced pastries during my college years; and once getting seriously baked from unintentionally inhaling second-hand smoke at an Aerosmith concert in the early 1980s. At the last example, I wound up eating an entire bucket of Dunkin' Donut munchkins in my dorm room. I maybe will have a beer or two per year and do not take nor have ever taken illicit drugs beyond the examples above. In other words, no one will mistake me for Charlie Sheen.

With that said, after reading numerous respectable pieces about marijuana, I was at a loss as to why our federal government was freaking out about weed? A mountain of scientific reports over the past hundred years or so have repeatedly shown that it isn't a gateway drug, addictive, NO ONE has ever O.D. on the stuff, it has numerous medicinal benefits, and cannabis has many uses such as petroleum, food, clothing and paper. Mr. Lee's 'Smoke Signals' presents a very thorough history of hippie lettuce. Our laws demonizing it began because of racism towards Mexicans and blacks as well as religious zealotry then snowballed into a federal bureaucratic cash cow and political tool. The author repeatedly shows through heavily annotated examples that marijuana's reputation was and is tarnished due to moral and ideological attitudes. There is plenty of interesting trivia between these pages such as Sears & Roebuck used to sell it. Mr. Lee's work also covers the key individuals who have been waging the battles to either make cannabis legal or maintain its status as an illicit drug even more dangerous than cocaine* or heroin* (*Oh pleeeeease, give me a friggin' break.) He also compares the United States government's attitude and actions to other more sensible-minded countries.

'Smoke Signals' is a highly informative, entertaining and correct history of marijuana. The only thing that irked me about his work is that Mr. Lee's allegiances are pretty darned obvious after only reading the first few pages. By the end of the book, I could practically see his spittle splattered all over the text because of his anger at the federal government's actions having caused hundreds of thousands of people a great deal of unnecessary harm. I sure can't blame him. After reading this excellent work, you may need some cannabis to calm yourself down.
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on September 29, 2012
Edit 10/1/12

I have decided to edit this review in order to remove a few merely personal remarks not germane to the text.

I found this in my library in hardcover. There is little new here barring recent research results, but it is very nice to see all the relevant material in one source. By that I mean the plant's background, the history of its use, the rise of prohibition in the U.S. and the idiocy of its continuation, have all been documented elsewhere as the (abundant) annotations show. But up until now it was necessary to go all over the place to get it.

I was a little surprised the author allowed his own feelings on the matter to show so clearly. It is billed as a 'social history of marijuana' and historians are usually pretty good at remaining objective while basing their findings on facts. One assertion presented as fact may be found on page 287 in a discussion of PTSD, "...nearly twice as many [Vietnam vets] would kill themselves after the war..." than died during the war. This really struck me. He gives no reference for this figure unfortunately so I did a little checking. Yes, there are some who make the assertion but it looks like few reliable statistical studies have been done. The VA says the mortality rate among discharged vets was about 1.5 times that of non-vets in their first five years of civilian life. I suppose from that you can extrapolate. I find it hard to accept that over 100,000 suicides have occurred nonetheless. Suicide is hard to diagnose sometimes and you could wrap in accidental deaths, drug overdoses and such to reach that huge number. I know of no one who took their own life after serving fwiw. PTSD sure is wicked if you ever get it, like my wife did after getting hit by a car.

In any case by the end of the book the author makes it perfectly clear he stands foursquare in the 'legalize' corner. That's cool with me, I feel the same way but be advised.

A question I have pondered at length, is the uncanny match between our brain chemistry and the plant's suite of chemicals which ties in with the above. Mr Lee quotes others as saying that our endocannabinoid system predates the plant. (pp211) Can we be certain of this?

The plant emerged about 30 million years ago in the Eocene. This is shown by casts of leaves in coal mines and such, whereas humanity evolved from a Miocene ape about 5 mya. The elucidation of the human endocannabinoid system is one of those recent research results and I have read nothing of this system's existence in other mammalian forms. The question is, which came first, the plant or our endo-system? Did we adapt to it or did it adapt to us? The quoted reference is itself entitled "...a hypothesis" so let us regard the question as still open.

No species loves cannabis the way humans do. I just have a hunch that sometime way way back our ancestors got involved with cannabis and a sort of co-evolution resulted in which our biochemistry adjusted itself to that of the plant's. Note that we also have an internal opioid system, the endorphins we all have heard about. It just gets curioser and curioser.

I really enjoyed the book. It took me only two or three days to go through it but I was really into it. Too bad I have to take it back, it would make a very nice reference work.
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on November 27, 2012
This should be mandatory for every law maker and citizen to read. Lee gives a complete history of cannabis right through the current medical marijuana phase. The history, the science, and the current events will enlightened you. No more Refeer Madness!
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on December 18, 2012
I have been interested in the subject since my first experience with it in the sixties, and with the recent passage of the legalizing initiatives, I decided it was worth another look. If you haven't kept up with the research on pot in the last few years, you'll likely be surprised, if not amazed, at the recent findings. The author has provided citations for many of the recent studies that reveal the beneficial effects available with the herb.

It also covers the legal aspects pretty thoroughly. Some of it triggered reactions on my part, as I was a Republican for most of the time, so I had to suck it up and agree that 'my guys' (at the time) were in large part responsible for the psychosis of the Drug War. Actually, there isn't much difference between the two parties, and I don't support either of them any more. For some, it will be an education to see what 'our government' gets up to and how flagrantly they will disregard laws, sanity, sense, and the rights we used to enjoy, in the pursuit of their obsession.

If you were around in the sixties, you should read this book.
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VINE VOICEon June 23, 2013
"Smoke Signals" by Martin A. Lee is an excellent social history of cannabis in America. Mr. Lee's experience reporting on marijuana science and therapeutics serves him well as he writes with great insight about the many contradictions between the plant, culture and drug policy. Published prior to the historic 2012 vote for legalization, this well-rounded book might be the best single source into understanding America's confounding relationship with marijuana.

Mr. Lee recalls how the herb was used by the working classes including innovative musicians such as Louis Armstrong until racial anxiety led to a wave of anti-marijuana laws in the 1930s. We learn how Harry Anslinger poisoned the minds of an entire generation with his government-approved anti-weed propaganda. The author does a great job describing how the Beats opened the door to the rebellious 1960s when marijuana use and antiwar activism were inseparably linked in a movement that challenged the legitimacy of Cold War authority.

Mr. Lee discusses the conservative backlash and the unjust puritanical war that was waged against the American people while the government looked the other way as it engaged in illicit wars in Central America and Afghanistan. We see how every credible government study intended to justify marijuana's illegality has instead demonstrated its efficacy as a therapeutic. The author talks about how progressive-thinking people like Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Dr. Tod Mikuriya and Dr. Andrew Weil dedicated considerable time and effort to the cause of reason, sanity and humanity.

Mr. Lee documents how the just say never 1980s gave way to the medical marijuana activism of the 1990s. As people progressed from blunts to ballots, state laws were changed but federal policy remained the same. Educating us about the science of cannabis, Mr. Lee is perhaps at his best when he writes about dozens of specific cases where patients benefited from weed after Big Pharma solutions had failed. However, it seems an entrenched military and law enforcement complex has done its worst to thwart the democratic process and deprive needy people of their medicine.

Mr. Lee goes on to discuss the growth of the home-grown industry and the political struggles that have continued in the face of legalistic limbo. As he thoroughly shreds the few remaining justifications that stand in the way of legalization (such as the old canard that marijuana is bad for kids), the author explains how science can point the way towards a healthier future for people and society.

I highly recommend this great book to everyone.
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on July 27, 2013
I bought this book because efforts are underway to legalize marijuana in my state of Maine and I felt it was important to be educated on the subject. Smoke Signals is a very comprehensive account of the history of cannabis worldwide and especially in the United States. It details the individuals who influenced its trends in society and unravels the history that lead to current attitudes about the herb. Lee sites some interesting paradoxes along the way. For example, how Harry Anslinger (US Bureau of Prohibition) on the one hand claimed marijuana was dangerous because it caused violence and aggression, and yet later claimed marijuana was dangerous because it would make people so docile that they would be unwilling or unable to fight in a war. I got the book on CD. It came as a set of 18 disks. The quality was excellent and the reading very articulate.
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on April 16, 2015
If you’re American, the documented facts in Smoke Signals on the US history of marijuana should outrage you. If you’re not American, you’ll understand the ludicrous and draconian US policy against industrial hemp and marijuana inflicted on its citizens for nearly a century. Author Martin A. Lee pulls no punches demonstrating how the US government has repeatedly screwed over the people in a misguided war that was doomed to fail from the start, a war with implications that are impossible to quantify. Ridiculous in concept, it’s a war against a plant, hemp-marijuana-cannabis, that has been loved throughout human civilization for noble reasons. A plant that was a required crop during colonial times for its myriad of uses, and a plant that was recalled by the government during the Hemp For Victory campaign of WWII. Perhaps a plant that will soon be called on again for healing, industry and environment, and if so, how will the Feds put their slick spin on that request?
Bravo to Lee for creating a treasure chest of marijuana history (more so for marijuana, but hemp history is included too). A tome of info from the introduction to US society to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and Reefer Madness through enduring tyranny over the decades to the changes happening in places like Colorado and recent medical breakthroughs with cannabinoids. America has been crippled in countless ways by our “leaders” because of their steadfast demonization of this wondrous plant and its potentials, chronicled poetically by the author.
The facts should alarm any sensible person, knowing the amazing properties of hemp-marijuana for industrial, medical and personal use. How could our “leaders” brainwash US citizens saying it had no medical value whatsoever? How could they poison our world with plastics, petroleum and dangerous chemicals while imprisoning moms and pops and seizing their properties? Those are head-scratchers for anyone with experience and knowledge about the plant. As Jack Herer said after first trying marijuana, “Why is this illegal?” Every intelligent person should want to know, and this book gives great reasons behind a tragedy of American history. Perhaps some of those roots are for making a society more governable; eliminating marijuana use means eliminating a healthy dose of contemplating all things, like bad domestic and foreign policy.
Mr. Lee’s book should be read by the masses, especially at a time when extensive marijuana reform is happening fast. You can’t keep a great truth from rising. Marijuana is not only for people suffering from cancer and other ailments but for everyone who wants it because it simply makes them FEEL GOOD. We’re supposed to have the right to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that last part is important!
Americans love to sing how we’re the land of the free and the home of the brave, but in some ways Americans have been hoodwinked into submission as the exact opposite of what our founder fathers envisioned. Washington, Jefferson and Franklin would be speechless if they knew future generations would make hemp a crime worse than murder in some cases.
Bravo to Kerouac, Ginsberg, Kesey, Dylan, The Dead, Brownie Mary, Debby Goldsberry, Ed Rosanthal, Dennis Perron and a plethora of other freedom fighters in the book who never gave in to an oppressive regime. As Perron and others have rightfully pointed out, the American government should be held accountable for reparations for the suffering it inflicted on individuals and the country as a whole.
The ridiculous hemp-marijuana war caused millions of US citizens to be harassed, arrested or incarcerated for ungodly long prison terms for minor pot possession while murderers, rapists and armed robbers often received lighter sentences. No wonder we can’t build prisons fast enough because they’re overflowing with non-violent marijuana offenses. How many military-style police raids have traumatized the lives of harmless people? How many trillions of dollars have been wasted funding this stupid war while extorting unreasonable finances from people trying to afford a plant that became for a time more expensive per ounce than gold?
How many lives have been lost that could have been saved by the wondrous medicinal value this plant has? What else will we discover when doctors can finally research the plant entirely? How much harm has been done with toxic and overpriced pharmaceuticals and health care? The questions go on and on.
When I think of all the people who had a hand in this: Anslinger, Mellon, Hearst, Hoover, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Lundgren, McCaffrey, Ashcroft, even Schwarzenegger, Obama and Goodell, plus an enormous cast of others, big pharma, alcohol and tobacco companies, I’m furious at the irreparable harm they have done and continue to do when they could have made or still can make better choices. Shame on all of you.
Yes, I take this personally. I don’t know how anyone can call themselves an American and not be outraged after knowing the facts. At least there’s one thing to rely on. In the end, victory will be on the side on cannabis-hemp-marijuana. “Hemp for Victory” should still be our motto because America needs it now as she always has!
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on January 1, 2013
Good historical overview of the war on drugs especially the lives ruined over lies and stupidity, the laziness and lack of honesty among politicians and and the greed and influence of chemical, drug, alcohol and agri-business.
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on September 15, 2012
Very engaging from beginning to end...this book should anger the public with the amount of misinformation published by the government as truth. Mr Lee has done an excellent job on this project!
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on December 24, 2012
It is a rare moment that an incredible book such as this comes available. The subject matter, even in the 21st century, is so often suppressed that discovering SMOKE SIGNALS was a detailed, refreshing delight. Pair it with the likes of THE POT BOOK, or CANNABIS:PHILOSOPHY FOR EVERYONE and any of Grinspoon & Bakalar's writings and you have the making of a great mini-library on this increadibly fascinating subject matter. It's time to clear the air of all the false distractions that have plagued this country for decades now with an incredible amount of truth and fact. Prepare yourself for a wonderfully developed text that is full of both. Add it to your library for a terrific 'go-to' reference guide now and well into the future. Enjoy...
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