A great many excellent books have been written about marijuana, marijuana policy, and the larger war on drugs. The following list is by no means comprehensive, but simply describes a few volumes that MPP has found to be particularly useful. The books listed under “The Essentials” provide the basic information that any activist working on marijuana issues needs to know, but the others have much to offer as well.



Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico
by Beto O’Rourke and Susie Byrd

The War on Drugs doesn’t work. This became obvious to El Paso City Representatives Susie Byrd and Beto O’Rourke when they started to ask questions about why El Paso’s sister city Ciudad Juárez has become the deadliest city in the world—8,000-plus deaths since January 1, 2008. Byrd and O’Rourke soon realized American drug use and United States’ failed War on Drugs are at the core of problem. In Dealing Death and Drugs — a book written for the general reader — they explore the costs and consequences of marijuana prohibition. They argue that marijuana prohibition has created a black market so profitable that drug kingpins are billionaires and drug control doesn’t stand a chance. Using Juárez as their focus, they describe the business model of drug trafficking and explain why this illicit system has led to the never-ending slaughter of human beings. Their position: the only rational alternative to the War on Drugs is to end to the current prohibition on marijuana.

“If Washington won’t do anything different, if Mexico City won’t do anything different, then it is up to us — the citizens of the border who understand the futility and tragedy of this current policy first hand — to lead the way.” — from the Afterword

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Dealing Death and Drugs will be donated to Centro Santa Catalina, a faith-based community in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, founded in 1996 by Dominican Sisters for the spiritual, educational and economic empowerment of economically poor women and for the welfare of their families.


The Essentials


Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?
by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert

MPP’s own Mason Tvert, along with Steve Fox and Paul Armentano, investigates the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol. It compares the legal and social statuses of the two drugs, as well as their health effects. The authors pose the question of why we punish marijuana users while condoning alcohol, a far more dangerous substance. Most importantly, for the millions of Americans who want to advance the cause of marijuana policy reform, this book supplies the talking points and detailed information needed to make persuasive arguments to friends, family, co-workers, and elected officials.


The Science of Marijuana, Second Edition
by Leslie L. Iversen (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Iversen, an Oxford University professor of pharmacology and member of the British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, gives a thorough and thoughtful overview of what science knows about marijuana and cannabinoids — not a brief for any side in marijuana policy debates but a solid, straighforward review of the data. While a bit more technical than Mitch Earleywine’s Understanding Marijuana, The Science of Marijuana is written clearly enough that most lay readers will find it understandable and filled with information that will be useful to reformers.


Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy
by Matthew B. Robinson and Renee G. Scherlen (State University of New York Press, 2007)

Robinson and Scherlen, professors at Appalachian State University, analyze six years of annual reports (2000 – 2005) from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House drug czar’s office. The pair examine three broad sets of success claims in the reports — reducing drug use, “healing” drug users, and disrupting drug markets — and find that the drug czar’s office routinely refuses to accurately report its failures in achieving its goals and often resorts to statistical manipulation to cover up those failures. In the book’s conclusion, the authors suggest that the drug czar’s office ought to be terminated or removed from the White House, as the office acts a “generator and defender of a given ideology in the drug war.”


Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition
edited by Mitch Earleywine (Oxford University Press, 2006)Earleywine, psychologist and author of Understanding Marijuana, has assembled a fascinating collection of pieces by leading researchers and thinkers from a variety of disciplines examining the scientific, ethical, and political aspects of marijuana policy. An essay by MPP Director of Communications Bruce Mirken looks at media coverage of marijuana policy, and MPP co-founder Charles Thomas examines the issue from a religious perspective.

Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence
by Mitch Earleywine (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Earleywine, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, provides a clear, readable, and balanced look at what the scientific data really tells us about marijuana — including the gateway theory, marijuana’s effects on the brain and memory, “amotivational syndrome,” and many other issues typically raised by opponents of reform. Earleywine, skilled at explaining complex scientific issues in language that is understandable to non-scientists, doesn’t just explain what researchers have learned about these issues. He also clearly and succinctly walks readers through the strengths and weaknesses of the various studies cited by advocates on either side of the marijuana debate. Understanding Marijuana covers much of the same ground as Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts (see below), but includes some more recent data.

Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base
by Janet E. Joy, Stanley J. Watson, Jr., and John A. Benson, editors (National Academy Press, 1999)

This is the much discussed Institute of Medicine report, commissioned by the Clinton White House in response to the passage of California’s medical marijuana initiative in 1996. While there are flaws in its analysis (for example, the failure to consider vaporizer technology and other existing means to minimize the harms associated with smoking), the report states clearly that there are some patients for whom marijuana provides relief when standard drugs fail. Not scintillating reading, but an essential work that continues to be quoted by both sides of the medical marijuana debate.


Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure
by Dan Baum (Little, Brown and Co., 1996; paperback edition Back Bay Books, 1997)

It’s hard to know how to get out of a dilemma if you don’t know how you got into it in the first place — and if you’ve ever wondered how U.S. marijuana policy (and the larger war on drugs) got to be so crazy, this is the book to read. Baum follows the modern drug war from its origins during the administration of President Richard Nixon through the mid-1990s, showing how cynical politicians exploited the legitimate concerns of parents for political advantage. Baum’s tautly written prose reads like a novel — sadly, one without a happy ending thus far.

Also of Interest


Dying to Get High
Wendy Chapkis and Richard J. Webb

One of the most interesting books yet written about medical marijuana. Authors Wendy Chapkis and Richard J. Webb focus on the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a patient-run collective in Santa Cruz, California, that was the subject of a notorious federal raid in 2002. Unlike some of the more sensational stories from California that have made the press in the last couple of years, the story of WAMM gets to the heart of the real need for medical marijuana. Chapkis and Webb also take a broader look at the issue, including how modern medicine evolved its current distaste for “crude plant products,” as medical marijuana is sometimes termed, placing the WAMM story in its proper context.

Cannabis: A History
by Martin Booth (Random House, 2003)Booth tackles the long and colorful history of marijuana in a book filled with interesting and obscure details. For example, a 15th century sorcerer’s manual lists hemp seed oil as an ingredient in “flying ointment,” apparently used by witches seeking to “ride their broomsticks.” Booth follows the story up to the present day and more recent bouts of “reefer madness.”

Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts: A Review Of The Scientific Evidence
by Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan (Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Alliance, 1997)

This is the classic debunking of the scare stories still peddled by government officials regarding marijuana, including claims that marijuana causes crime, damages the lungs more severely than tobacco, and sends large numbers of people to hospital emergency rooms.

Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market
by Eric Schlosser (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

Only one third of this fascinating examination of the U.S. shadow economy deals with marijuana (other sections deal with pornography and illegal immigrants), but Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation, zeroes in brilliantly on the perverse effects of prohibition. He asks, “How does a society come to punish a man more harshly for selling marijuana than for killing someone with a gun?”

The Cultural/Subcultural Contexts of Marijuana Use at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
edited by Andrew Golub (Haworth Press, 2006)

This collection of scholarly studies looking at the contexts and social rules and rituals around marijuana use in various ethnic, economic, and cultural groups is not light reading but makes an important contribution to the literature. Instead of stereotypical “druggies” stumbling aimlessly through a ‘”gateway” toward addiction and despair, Golub and colleagues introduce readers to a variety of rational, sensible, and moderate marijuana users in a variety of settings, from gritty urban neighborhoods to wealthy suburbs — a reality that many policymakers pretend does not exist.

Race to Incarcerate, Revised and Updated Edition
by Mark Mauer (New Press, July 1999)

In this examination of race, class, and the criminal justice system, the executive director of The Sentencing Project offers an up-to-date look at three decades of prison expansion in America. Including newly written material on recent developments under the Bush administration, the book tells the tragic story of runaway growth in the number of prisons and jails and the overreliance on imprisonment to stem problems of economic and social development — and argues for more humane and productive alternatives.



Influencing Public Policy


Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits
by Jason Salzman (Westview Press, 2003)

In this PR handbook aimed at community nonprofit and activist groups, Salzman offers guidance on all the standard media relations approaches — press releases, news conferences, etc. — as well as on more theatrical and activist-oriented media stunts.

Winning Elections: Political Campaign Management, Strategy and Tactics
by Ron A. Faucheux (M. Evans and Company, 2003)

This compilation of practical political advice, originally published as individual articles in Campaigns and Elections Magazine, includes the best advice from more than 100 of the best political consultants in the business and covers everything from precinct targeting to polling and media strategy.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything
by Joe Trippi (Regan Books, 2004)

Internet campaigning guru Joe Trippi examines how Internet technology can transform American democracy and includes “seven inviolable, irrefutable, ingenious things your business or institution or candidate can do in the age of the Internet that might keep you from getting your ass kicked but then again might not.”

Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressives
by George Lakoff (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004)

Influential linguist Lakoff argues that political success is linked to the ability to control the language of key issues and thus the ability to position a candidate or issue in favorable terms to voters.

Doing Democracy
by Bill Moyer (New Society Publishers, 2001)

Provides a working model for understanding and analyzing social movements, ensuring that they are successful in the long term. Beginning with an overview of social movement theory, Doing Democracy outlines the eight stages of social movements, the four roles of activists, and case studies various political movements.