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Book Review: Brave New Weed

When I first started reading Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis, I was immediately struck by author Joe Dolce’s writing style – fresh, engaging, and thoughtful. I’d honestly never seen anybody write about cannabis in such a dynamic way.

And as I continued to read, I found that the finely-tuned prose was infused with a marvelous sense of curiosity and in-depth journalism. Dolce won me over immediately and held my attention from one page to the next, following him around the world as he explored the past, present and future of cannabis.
It all starts when Dolce’s cousin hands him a carefully homegrown sample of Super Lemon Haze, remarkably different than any cannabis he’d ever tried before. In fact, Dolce admits having largely avoided cannabis for the previous 15 years after too many nights of paranoia and anxiety – but this was different. The effects were energetic yet soothing, and instead of cloudy thinking, his mind went into a state of rejuvenated play – nimble and quick.

He realizes then and there that it’s time to reacquaint himself with cannabis. At the time Colorado and Washington had just legalized the herb for adult use, and in Dolce’s personal life he had grown somewhat bored with his career and had also just come out of a 16-year relationship.

The timing was perfect, in other words – a moment that sparked what would become an epic journey of 30,527 miles across the globe and back. We as readers are fortunate that in Brave New Weed, Dolce takes us along for the ride.

Traveling to locales such as Amsterdam, Israel, Colorado, and California – Dolce takes on the role of unbiased observer, interviewer, and participant. He talks to the people whom almost all of us would want to talk to, asks the questions that we ourselves would want to ask and is often surprised by the answers he finds.

A Few Highlights from the Book

Some – but not all – of my favorite moments in the book include the unexpected yet insightful disappointment he finds in Amsterdam, and how he contrasts that with the new world of cannabis in Colorado, where he interns with a top-tier medical dispensary.

And I’ll never forget how Dolce captures his experience visiting Mara Gordon of Aunt Zelda’s in California. Or when he visits the cutting edge of cannabis science in Israel, talking to scientists and researchers such as Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (widely hailed the father of cannabinoid science) as well as other Israeli researches on the front lines, people who have seen firsthand how cannabis affects things like bone growth and neurogenesis.

In Israel, Dolce also spends time at a nursing home where the elders are experiencing life-changing benefits from cannabis, medicating with vapor-filled balloons and oil capsules. He talks to their physicians and nurses who witness every day how this plant helps people.

And in between all of these adventures, Dolce breaks down the science of cannabis, making it easy and fun to read. He also explores some of the more interesting, under-reported nuances of the drug war including the vast amount of money NIDA has spent trying (and failing) to find any harmful effects of cannabis, the absurd difficulties U.S. researchers encounter, and even how the U.S. government has previously hijacked a number of network TV shows to incorporate anti-cannabis plot lines.

Dolce also does a great job of breaking down the essential cornerstones of cannabis prohibition from its dubious origins in the 1930s, to cannabis’s controversial inclusion as a schedule I narcotic in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. He conveys an interesting message in that as inept as big government often seems, they certainly did a fantastic job demonizing cannabis in the eyes of the public.

Questioning Anti-Cannabis Rhetoric

Toward the end of the book, before offering a brilliant appendix on how to use cannabis wisely, Dolce engages in a dialogue with Kevin Sabet (from Smart Approaches to Marijuana), one of the anti-cannabis movement’s most high-profile voices. As with the other interviews, I found Dolce asking the very questions that I would have wanted to ask.

Intertwining highlights from his Sabet interview with a bit of editorial, Dolce points out the fallacies of the anti-cannabis argument from all that he had learned and witnessed during his globe-trotting journey. He hones in on the anti-cannabis rhetoric, showing how it is grounded not in science or fact, but sentiment, attention, and money.

Without attacking Sabet, Dolce manages to pull the rug out from under him – like a magician yanking away a tablecloth without disturbing the plates or glasses. Except there are no tricks here. Just Dolce with his notepad and pen.

Overall, Brave New Weed is an engaging, worthwhile read no matter what side of the cannabis argument you happen to be on. Through his findings Joe Dolce makes a very sober case for where cannabis is headed and how when used intelligently can have very real benefits. In fact, he can’t wait until cannabis one day becomes an accepted part of our lives, boring even.

Have you read Brave New Weed? Do you have another cannabis book you’d like to recommend? Feel free to join the conversation in the comment section below.

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