Most books about Cannabis tend to fall into two camps. There are the stoned travel ramblings of the super-enthusiast. And then there are the DIY guides, available mostly in 'head shops', consisting of lovingly illustrated pamphlets showing you how to turn your upstairs toilet into a hydroponic hash farm grossing two hundred grand a year. Despite a deep-rooted affection for his subject matter, Patrick Matthews Cannabis Culture: a Journey Through Disputed Territory is about as far from the typical dope book as a hand-rubbed Nepalese temple ball is from a lump of industrial grade Moroccan. With its highly readable prose and artful mixing of historic, legal, medical, scientific and social evidence, alongside considerable chunks of personal anecdote, Cannabis Culture offers a sophisticated multi- dimensional take on the subject of the world's favourite illegal recreational drug.
Matthews makes two important contributions to the debate on Cannabis. First, as befits a wine writer (Matthews is author of the award- winning wine book The Wild Bunch: Great Wines from Small Producers), he introduces the notion of cannabis connoisseurship. Cannabis has a "set of expectations, a way of talking about the experience, the rituals of sharing joints and an idea of how to get stoned and how to behave when stoned, all of which matter," he writes.
The difference from wine is that there connoisseurship is about taste because that is where the chemical complexity lies. With cannabis the opportunity for discernment lies in the effect because it contains over 60 different psycho-active compounds. He also argues that we should develop cannabis culture, not repress it. His point being that the best way to control abuse and overuse of any drug is through ritual and the evolution of social norms, not through legislation. He points to the way that alcohol damaged American Indian culture because it had no social context. And he slates drinks firms who are "aggressively keen to demystify what they sell--stripping it in effect of the ritual which helps limit its potential for harm. "
Although this is obviously a book for enthusiasts, it will also make an invaluable and informative read for worried parents, agents of the law and legislators, all of whom tend to be hopelessly ignorant when it comes to what cockneys call "Bob Hope" (dope). --Alex Benady