Weed: An Interview with Author Caitlin Donohue

Weed: Cannabis Culture in the Americas is a wide-reaching and inclusive collection of interviews which will satisfy young adult readers curious in the unique plant’s history and future.

Culture writer and journalist Caitlin Donohue joins us today to discuss why a book like this is so important and what she hopes young readers will find in the text.

Hi, Caitlin. It’s a pleasure to be interviewing you. I guess I’m wondering the obvious question first. Why did you write this book, Weed: Cannabis Cultures in the Americas?

As I wrote in the book, I’m not afraid to say that I consider myself lucky to have a pretty balanced, loving, adult relationship with cannabis. But that’s not why I wrote this book. Cannabis affects everybody. It has its obvious medical uses, and wow, hemp alone could provide a more sustainable source of so many industrial materials, from clothes to housing, which could be huge for the environment. But hemp’s mass production has been seriously hindered by cannabis prohibition. I’ve been writing about weed for 12 years now and honestly, sometimes I think that my journalism has more to do prohibition than the drug itself. Prohibition is an anti-scientific, racist force in the world that is wielded to disproportionately harm vulnerable communities, like people of color and people with chronic health conditions.

When people ask, “Why are you writing a book about marijuana for young people?” I’m like, young people already know a lot about marijuana! They just probably aren’t getting the whole story on the drug. They’re learning from any consumption they’ve done, or that their friends and family have done and they’ve been aware of, which is it’s own kind of education. And then there’s cannabis policing. A lot of young people have loved ones who have been arrested or even incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes. I think we have a debt to those young people, who are now seeing this drug become legal in some parts of the world, to explain how this relatively harmless plant could have come to so negatively impact our communities. That answer lies in the history of the drug, and the stigma that authorities have built up around it over the years.

So true. But wait—relatively harmless? We’re still not sure about the effects that cannabis consumption has on young bodies—on teens’ cognitive skills, etcetera. Should young people even be learning more about this drug by reading entire books about it?

The key phrase here is that part about how we’re not sure about cannabis’ impacts on us, physically and emotionally. Scientific research into the effects of cannabis has been severely hindered by prohibition for many decades—which is yet another way that drug prohibition makes us less safe.

Listen, in terms of personal health, it’s essential for young people to know about cannabis so that they can gauge the effects the drug has on their bodies, should they choose to consume. In Weed, I interview 17 different people who know all about the drug. One of them is University of British Columbia nursing professor Emily Jenkins, who conducts scientific investigations in which she interviews hundreds of young people about the roles drugs play in their lives, and what they want to know about drugs. Jenkins says that since conclusive scientific data on cannabis’ health effects are still lacking, it’s really important to judge the drug’s impact on your life by looking at how it’s affecting your personal relationships, your ability to do what you have to do, things like that. Having a joint a month is probably going to be OK, if you’re doing it under safe conditions. That’s an example of a non-problematic use. But there are problematic uses of drugs too—I bet a lot of young people know what those look like as well. At the end of the day, it’s important we don’t stigmatize the consumption of cannabis because that makes people afraid to speak out if they need help with their own relationship with the drug, or just have questions about it that they can’t answer themselves.

In the book I say if you want my advice, wait on becoming a regular user until your brain is about as big as it’s going to get. We know that some young people are trying cannabis, though, or they love people who consume weed, or they will in the future. I mean, it’s inevitable. So they need to know what’s up with it.

That makes sense. Weed is built around 17 interviews with people from Canada to Argentina. Why such a large geographic range?

Because the cannabis economy has always been international, and it’s important to understand why weed farmers in Sinaloa are connected to corridos verdes listeners in California, how reggae fans in Canada are linked to Rastafarian communities in Jamaica. It’s hard to understand how drugs work if you don’t think internationally.

How’d you choose the people you interviewed?

I wanted interviewees with really wide-ranging kinds of expertise when it came to the cannabis plant. There are people in Weed who relate to cannabis in the context of education, incarceration, medicine, politics, business, clothing, food, architecture, tourism, faith—I could go on. That range is to show that this leafy green plant has been used by humanity in so many senses. Drugs are inanimate objects, at the end of the day. (I mean, when the weed plant is uprooted it’s inanimate, when it’s growing, who knows? That’s like, a philosophic conundrum.) There are no good drugs or bad drugs, it’s how we consume them and in what contexts that gives them meaning.

Alright, so what do you want readers to take away from this book?

I would say that what the book contains is only gateways into much longer conversations. How can we right the wrongs of the Drug War, particularly its harms to communities of color and Indigenous communities? Can we build a cannabis industry that brings funds to those who have been kept back by prohibitionist policing and school policies? How can industrial hemp be employed to ease environmental degradation? Oh my goodness, so many big questions! But TLDR: that our knowledge of cannabis is in its infant stage, so readers should continue to keep learning and being critical of everything they hear about cannabis long after they turn the page on Weed.

Fair enough. How are you planning on celebrating the book’s release?

I’m hoping to partner with youth organizations who are concerned with drug education to present the book—so if you know of a community or school or social justice group that wants to talk about weed, do hit me up.

Praise for Weed

“[O]ffers serious researchers fresh perspectives.”—Booklist

“Solid research and a global perspective create a useful approach focusing on harm reduction.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This book’s timing is perfect for our world. As we begin to see past the weeds (pun intended) to find sustainable solutions rooted in harm reduction for our youth, this is the book to share.” — Felicia Carbajal, community organizer and executive director of The Social Impact Center

Connect with Caitlin

Caitlin Donohue is a San Francisco-raised, Mexico City-based bilingual culture journalist, radio producer, and drug educator. She’s written about cannabis culture and politics for 12 years, and Weed is her second book for young adults.

Read more interviews with Lerner authors on the Lerner blog!

Leave a Reply