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America's long journey toward legal marijuana

| Saturday, April 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Bruce Barcott became an expert on the cannabis industry while researching and writing “Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America” (Time Books, available Tuesday) — a book that reflects the ways in which many Americans' outlook on the drug has changed in recent years.

Barcott recounts his own marijuana experiences. They didn't go beyond the sort of youthful experimentation that Americans typically leave behind with the rest of campus life when they move on from college and take on real-world adult responsibilities — until Washington state asked voters about legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana.

A resident of the Seattle area, Barcott found himself reconsidering his initial skeptical stance toward legalization as he, his wife, friends and neighbors debated it. The arguments of those in favor overcame his qualms and he voted for legalization — and then, pondering the ramifications more deeply, he began research that would result in the book.

Barcott reviews marijuana's political, legal, social and cultural history, making clear that government's “evil weed” rhetoric long has been at odds with science. He also explores the illegal marijuana trade; the fledgling legal marijuana business in Washington and Colorado, where voters also forced change; and the movement that legalized medicinal use in numerous states, lending momentum to flat-out legalization.

Barcott calls legalization “the next great refutation of the impossible” — as in, the next thing that you thought you'd never see happen. He believes legalization is at a critical moment in America, when it can triumph or fail — and that legalization's advances to date are forcing all sorts of societal adjustments and raising such issues as marijuana etiquette at neighborhood gatherings, zoning for legal marijuana shops and how legalization changes parent-child conversations about drugs.

Barcott concludes that legalization is largely successful to date. He hasn't “become a connoisseur or aficionado” of marijuana but no longer disdains it. And, he says, his “two-year expedition into the marijuana world left me more suspicious about government authority and more hopeful about the common sense of most Americans.”


“King John: And the Road to Magna Carta” by Stephen Church (Basic Books, available Tuesday) — Billed by the publisher as the first biography of its subject in more than 20 years, this book doesn't seek to rehabilitate his reputation. Instead, its author, a University of East Anglia professor of medieval history who considers perceptions of John as an evil tyrant oversimplified, explores how the king saw his life unfold, in historical context, and how his troubled reign gave rise to the enduringly influential good-governance blueprint that his barons forced upon him 800 years ago this spring. Drawing on records of John's correspondence kept by his clerks — a practice then new — and other medieval accounts, the book tells how he gained the throne despite being its youngest potential heir, his loss of and ill-fated attempts to regain family holdings in France, and how his Magna Carta assent did not prevent civil war.


“The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician's First Year” by Matt McCarthy (Crown, available Tuesday) — At a time when health-care policy remains such a big part of the national debate, this book is a reminder of the challenges involved in “just” becoming a doctor. The author, now a Cornell University assistant professor of medicine and Weill Cornell Medical Center staff physician, recounts his intern year at New York City's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, which he began fresh out of Harvard Medical School. Changing some names, dates and personal details to maintain patients' privacy and others' confidentiality, he relates his doubts, confusion, anxiety and determination, finds humor amid his ups and downs — the latter including an accidental needle stick that potentially exposed him to infection — and ultimately experiences the thrill of learning to, as the publisher puts it, “save lives in a job where there is no practice.”


Forthcoming titles from both ends of the political spectrum:


• “The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy” by Masha Gessen (Riverhead Books, available Tuesday)

• “The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic” by Akhil Reed Amar (Basic Books, April 14)

• “The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong: The Untold Story of My Struggle for Tibet” by Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston (PublicAffairs, April 14)

• “The Snowden Reader” edited by David P. Fidler, foreword by Sumit Ganguly (Indiana University Press, April 24)

• “The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles & Letters During the Struggle Over Ratification” (collector's boxed set) by various authors (Library of America, April 28)


• “Bastards of Utopia: Living Radical Politics after Socialism” by Maple Razsa (Indiana University Press, available Monday)

• “A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars” by Andrew Hartman (University of Chicago Press, April 14)

• “Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road” by James Longhurst (University of Washington Press, April 15)

• “A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change” by Elaine Graham-Leigh (Zero Books, April 24)

• “Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline” by Jennifer Carlson (Oxford University Press, May 1)

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or

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