A colorful history of stigmas
New York Times-bestselling biographical comics author’s latest delves into marijuana’s storied history of stigmas
Weed is everywhere. It’s in our television shows, our films, our homes. For some of us, it’s just down the road at our local dispensary. For others, it’s in our backyard.
Today, 65% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to an April 2019 CBS News poll. We love the herb, and we feel the herb loves us.
So why are many Americans demonized for their usage? Why do professionals hide the fact that they consume cannabis outside of work? What’s with the stereotype of pot making its users lazy? And where did all of these stigmas even come from?
Graphic novelist Box Brown answers at least some of these questions with his latest book, Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America.
Brown, the Ignatz Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling biographical comics author, has previously delved into his lust for video games with Tetris: The Games People Play, and passion for wrestling with Andre the Giant: Life and Legend.
Now, he’s delightfully tacking one of his favorite subjects within a world of cartoonists and authors who don’t often advocate for its use.
Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America simplifies an issue turned complex by an early skeptical America. Brown starts his story by detailing what the very first pot smokers might have experienced, then dives into Hindu deities and Lord Shiva. After explaining how Spain introduced marijuana to Mexico, Brown begins his retelling of America’s introduction to the plant, and its eventual ban. He writes that it stemmed from El Paso, Texas. The chief reason: Mexicans and blacks were using the plant, and the “white man” used the tool against them.
America began a trail into demonizing, stigmatizing and banning marijuana, and giving reason for other countries to follow suit. Some of the book’s key propaganda-inducing players include President Richard Nixon, publisher William Randolph Hearst, and Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s bureau of narcotics, whom Brown rightfully calls “cannabis’s greatest enemy.”
Brown takes his time to cite multiple propaganda pieces for readers to fully comprehend just how cannabis was weaponized—the Reefer Madness films, how the word “marihuana” exists to tap into anti-immigrant sentiment and to highlight its Mexican origins.
Page-wide panels showcase pieces published in periodicals such as The New York Times that blamed marijuana as a catalyst for murder or rape. Marijuana was popular within jazz circles, and the public began to assume that black men mixed with weed logically created devil music. It’s a story that’s been told before, but never has it been conveyed in such a compact manner, let alone a graphic novel.
Brown’s simplistic storytelling is backed by his decluttered art style. His signature minimalism makes reading Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America a breeze. Panels are neatly packaged and backgrounds are pleasingly geometric. Brown’s style doesn’t invite readers to wander into a single panel before proceeding onto the next, which gives his illustrative work a charming feeling fueled by quick transitions. He focuses all his efforts on detailing facial expressions, accenting altered states of consciousness and combining art with concise writing for a singular storytelling experience.
Brown doesn’t persuade the reader to advocate for marijuana, but he does relay the undeniable facts. Marijuana’s outlawing was a product of racism, classism and Anslinger’s skepticism in addition to his position in power. It’s impossible to finish this book without believing cannabis would relieve at least some of the symptoms of our social and political environments. Brown paints a transparent picture with Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, and further elevates his status as a proficient marijuana advocate.