Sometimes, the best way to tell history is through art. And cannabis is a cultural icon that necessitates the use of witty cartoons and graphics. “Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America” is a graphic novel that debuts April 2 by acclaimed cartoonist Box Brown. He’s authored the New York Times best-seller “Andre The Giant: Life and Legend,” but he’s now foraying into the weed biz.
The graphic novel, published by First Second Books, dives into the political and racist history behind how cannabis became illegal—both in the United States and across the world. (Thanks, ‘Murica.) The fun, informative cartoon panels describe the relationship humans have to the plant, which long predates the silly misinformed laws that keep the drug federally illegal.
The 254-page book—a quick read with short snippets of text—starts with some of the plant’s mythological beginnings. Its true history and beginnings remain unknown, but we know cannabis was consumed in the early days of humanity long before the U.S. government decided to outlaw it. Or long before the U.S. government ever existed at all, really.
American leaders banned it, in large part, due to their racist bias toward Mexican immigrants and the black musicians of the jazz era, both of whom they associated with the plant. Today, the legacy of this racist past still lingers, and it still disproportionately impacts these groups. More than 8 million arrests were due to pot between 2001 and 2010, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. And while white people are just as likely to use weed as black people, black Americans are arrested at more than three times the rate of white people, the ACLU reports.
This new, beautifully illustrated book outlines the history behind this modern statistic clear as day—and Brown keeps it real. He doesn’t hesitate to call it like he sees it, and he even makes the reader laugh a little bit while doing it.
He introduces major political players with whom not all potheads may be familiar: like Harry J. Anslinger, the novel’s main villain. He was the first commissioner for the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. According to Brown, his lies and propaganda during Prohibition helped fuel the false stereotypes that keep weed consumption suppressed today.
For instance, supporters of the War on Drugs like to claim weed is a “gateway drug” or that it’s bad for a person’s memory or that it makes people lose their mind. However, there’s very little science to support any of these claims. To make matters worse, the federal scheduling of cannabis has kept researchers from being able to properly access—and analyze—it. The research starting to come out on the drug is a bit troubling, but that doesn’t mean that all the questions are answered. The public needs more science to fully understand the impacts of cannabis.
What science has shown is that the drug carries medicinal benefits—and the push for those perks during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s ultimately helped revolutionize the medical cannabis movement. While the munchies may be a nice treat for the healthy, they really improve the quality of life of those who are sick and unable to eat. The LGBTQ community’s support of their AIDS-inflicted friends helped amplify and push the medical cannabis movement to success in states like California.
Now, the drug’s benefits are no secret. It’s common knowledge. And artist Brown’s comical and honest rendition of this tale will take that truth even further. The connection between humans and cannabis can’t be broken—no matter how many laws try to come between them.