In Brave New Weed, author Joe Dolce weaves a fascinating tale of the twisted history — and even more twisted pretzel logic — behind marijuana prohibition. It is a tale that, depending on the chapter, will make you laugh, think or pull your hair out in frustration.
Dolce’s work, published Wednesday, is equal parts travelogue, existential discovery and historical exegesis. But mostly it is a well-spun narrative and a damn fun, breezy read about the ubiquitous weed.
Dolce is not a cannabis expert — well, he wasn’t one before he started his global pilgrimage. But by the end of the book, Dolce writes with clarity and expertise about the plant and its utility to mankind. Dolce attacks the topic with a journalistic rigor that will appeal to readers looking for trusted agent to tell the truth — dogma and talking points be damned.
And make no mistake about it: Dolce’s bona fides as a journalist are solid. He is the former editor-in-chief of Details and Star magazines and now CEO of a media training business. He has spent a career careening from big story to big story.
So, what makes a prominent national journalist write leave his cushy editor’s gig and pursue a story about cannabis?
“I was at a crossroads, really,” Dolce said in an interview from his home in New York. “I was burned out and bored after years as a magazine editor. My 16-year relationship was over. And, well, I wanted to challenge myself.”
As he writes in the book:
I was, for the first time in two decades, adrift, primed for change, ready to dance, drink champagne, recharge my sex life, and reinvent the way I worked. My entire life was in need of a rethink, my vices included.
As the book opens, Dolce details how a family member (a cousin) proudly showed off his green thumb by revealing a small, secret indoor marijuana grow. That seemingly innocuous encounter with his cousin’s weed was the spark the journalist needed to embark on his journey to “tear down the cannabis closet” and seek answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.
And the journey took him zig-zagging across the globe, including:
Amsterdam: Where he visits the world-famous coffee shops and witnesses the ultra-competitive annual Cannabis Cup.
- California: Where he tracks down the self-proclaimed “fairy godfather of medical marijuana,” San Francisco’s venerable rabble-rouser Dennis Peron. Dolce also runs into George Zimmer, the founder of Men’s Warehouse. You will get a chuckle from this episode. I guarantee it.
- Colorado: Where he sees what “The New World” of weed looks like after legalization. Dolce arrives in the Mile High City mere weeks after the new laws passed allowing any adult in the state to enjoy the herb without fear of arrest. He witnessed the birth of an industry and the awkward first steps of childhood.
- Israel: Where he sits down with Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, “the scientist who cracked the chemical code of cannabis a half century ago and then discovered the endocannabinoid system in the human body with which it interacts,” as Dolce describes the good doctor. Dolce’s lesson on endocannabinoid science is deftly written in this chapter. If you are seeking a layman’s description on how marijuana works, buy this book. Like the excellent editor he is, Dolce takes the doctor’s scientific explanation and boils it down to its essence.
There are other stops along the way — the author’s telling of his side trip to Bodega Bay is alternately, hilarious and touching — but throughout the odyssey, Dolce is continuously teaching the reader about the plant’s history in all its glory and vilification.
One of the most enlightening parts of the book is Chapter 10, in which Dolce spells out his Four Enhancements. It is a chapter that could be the impetus for yet another book. Here, Dolce channels fellow cannabis enthusiast and astronomer Carl Sagan:
“I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow man. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness.”
In Dolce’s view, “there is little doubt that it affects the way we see our place in life’s grand order. This enhanced receptivity, not to mention insight, empathy, and awe, are but a few of the cognitive functions that cannabis underscores.”
He then delivers a cogent argument about the spiritual or otherworldly aspects of the herb and The Four Enhancements:
- Deep Focus
- Intimacy, Empathy & Sex
The chapter is a delightful diversion and a reading experience that should be performed twice: before a session and again after a few tokes. If cannabis is not your thing, the enhanced experience is optional. Trust me, you’ll still benefit from the conversation.
And that is what Dolce has created in Brave New Weed: a conversation. He writes as if he were you’re slightly smarter, funnier, cannabis-loving friend just having a conversation.
Whether this is your first foray into the emerging cannabis book genre or if you think you know all there is to cannabis sativa, this is a book worth buying. If your are cannabis curious, your questions will be answered and you may be compelled to continue your education in the field. If you are serious cannabis connoisseur, you’ll learn a few things. And you will enjoy the journey.
Brave New Weed