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Marijuana History: A Bibliography

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

It’s been a big month for cannabis legalization news.

On May 31, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use, and did so via state legislature (making it only the second state, after Vermont, to do so in this manner). But earlier this week, a movement to legalize in New York fell flat. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to debate whether the Justice Department should be allowed to interfere with state and territorial legalization laws.

Like I said, a big month, with, many predict, more news to come.

As drug and alcohol historians, our question is always, “How did we get here?” It turns out that the folks at were asking the same question. They put together a bibliography that covers the culture, politics, history, horticulture and science of cannabis (as well as a section on the “Best Reads While High,” which might be slightly more subjective), and it could be a useful starting place for those hoping to understand our strange new cannabis world. You can check out the full list here, and what follows are some highlights.

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Dr. Grinspoon is, in many ways, the grandfather of the cannabis legalization movement. His 1971 book, released a year before the Shafer Commission’s report (Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding), outlined marijuana’s use and effects, and argued for its decriminalization. An important and notable book.

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Anderson was one of the first journalists to take NORML, Keith Stroup’s decade-old lobbying organization, seriously in the early 1980s. While High in America was published before the Reagans’ war on drugs took its punitive, forceful shape, Anderson nonetheless showed the outlines of the decriminalization movement of the 1970s, NORML’s too-high hopes for rapid change, and the infighting that has haunted the legalization movement for decades.

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A book notable for its author, its original style, and the pro-hemp movement Herer launched in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s (before Herer’s death in 2010). Some of the history isn’t entirely accurate, but the book itself is a prime historical and archival resource, outlining where the legalization movement was in the 1980s (when the Reagan administration had pushed it underground), as well as a really fun read.

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Most authors, myself included, focus on cannabis’s role in American history. Booth, a Brit, looks at the drug’s global reach — and illegality. An incredibly helpful source of information on the world’s embrace and rejection of this plant.

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How about a little crass self-promotion? If you haven’t read my book (or left an Amazon review – those are also very helpful!), feel free to check it out ASAP.

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