The last election season signaled big changes for marijuana in America. Two states opted for legalization, meaning weed use might soon be the accepted norm.
Into that shifting cultural sand steps Alfred Ryan Nerz. After writing a book about competitive eating, the Yale-educated New Yorker dropped down into a funk, in part due to heavy weed use. It got his mental wheels turning about America's relationship to the substance, and pretty soon Nerz was sketching out a new project. The result, Marijuanamerica: One Man's Quest to Understand America's Dysfunctional Love Affair With Weed, hits stores this 4/20.
The book tracks Nerz's own thinking about marijuana and his experiences touring through the different subcultures attached to weed. His mission was to show how deeply ingrained weed is in vastly different corners of society. The cross-country romp included wild stops with Northern California pot barons like Buddha Cheese to the legal-weed Eden of Colorado to a Fort Lauderdale Marijuana Anonymous meeting.
What separates Nerz's thoughts from the rest of the white noise about marijuana reform is that he comes at it with a balanced, Everydude take. No activist, he's open about the trouble that smoking has brought to his own life.
"I wasn't writing one of these books — and trust me, there's a lot of them — about how hypocritical the American government has been or how there are all these conspiracies by the Hearst and DuPont corporations to kill hemp," he says. "I'm not against that stuff, but I didn't feel like we have to legalize now."
South Florida plays an important part in the book. Nerz interviewed local boy Robert Platshorn, tagging along on one of the activist's "Silver Tours" — educational events that promote medical marijuana for seniors. He also devotes a chapter to Irving Rosenfeld, the Fort Lauderdale stockbroker who is one of four remaining members of a government program. Because of a debilitating muscle condition, the government sends Rosenfeld 300 joints a month for pain management.
"He basically personified a lot of what I wanted to do in this book," Nerz says. "I wanted to show the normalization of weed culture in America, and here's a guy who's a stockbroker who leaves his desk while others take a cigarette break to smoke a joint."
So is Rosenfeld a glimpse of the future? As soon as more states go along with legalization, Nerz imagines there will be marijuana stores on every corner. "If we legalize it," he says, "American entrepreneurship will snap to quickly."