What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
How the idea of a drug can really push people into the street. Marijuana inspires devotion, whether people support or despise its use. I conducted about two dozen interviews with activists and former activists.
The most famous analogy is the prohibition of alcohol, but alcohol is different: Its illegality and legality were enshrined in constitutional amendments. Marijuana laws have no such stability. It’s only marijuana that has inspired such continuous social protest campaigns. Whenever things seem settled, you just have to wait, because they’re probably about to change.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
I wrote a majority of the manuscript right after my son was born, so I was battling exhaustion and the terrors that come with the arrival of your first child; there was a lot of multitasking going on. I fear that some of that crept into the writing. There are places I wish I could start over again and rewrite more clearly and eloquently, and take away the exhaustion of early parenthood.
Also, some of the activists I covered in the dissertation didn’t make it into the final book, which bums me out quite a bit. There are so many compelling people who worked for and against marijuana, but I had a very strict word count, so I lost a lot of their stories. I don’t know, maybe it’s worth a sequel. “Grass Roots 2: The Roots Grow Deeper.”
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
My big influence is Wavy Gravy. I’ve always really liked him, and a couple of years ago I saw a documentary by Michelle Esrick called “Saint Misbehavin’,” and it really made me a believer in the magic of Wavy Gravy. He was this part of the counterculture movement who turned protest and compassion into an art. He transformed from this beatnik poet into a kind of political clown, and somehow he avoided the co-optation of all these 1960s ideals. He has a camp where he helps kids. He helps the blind. He’s done all these amazing things, and the whole time he’s been joyful about it. He really understands the absurdity of life, but he doesn’t let it make him cynical.
Persuade someone to read “Grass Roots” in 50 words or less.
More than any other drug, pot means something in this country, around ideas that are at the core of many debates about American democracy: freedom,…