Oct 26

Book Review: Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black MarketReefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market by Eric Schlosser

Schlosser wrote FAST FOOD NATION, which I felt was well researched but lacked consistent writing. I figured he might be a better writer by now, so I picked up REEFER MADNESS, the perhaps poorly-named book that is not strictly about marijuana so much as it’s about underground economies.

The book is divided into three sections, the first of which deals with marijuana. You could write a book entirely about marijuana cultivation in the US, and many people have. Schlosser touches a little on the absurdity of the drug war, a subject that riles me up like few others do. Schlosser, like me, believes that the war on drugs is a senseless waste of blood and treasure that destroys lives far in excess of the drugs that big government seeks to protect us from. The ones who profit are drug dealers, the law who steal property in forfeitures, and the people who build and staff prisons to house these non-violent offenders. He deals a little bit with the horticulture and shipping of drugs, but more so with the draconian anti-drug laws and the inconsistency with which which they are enforced.

I had a hard time listening to the first section. Even though I don’t do drugs and don’t know anyone who’s been affected by our asinine drug war, denying civil liberties and wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money to defend someone else’s arbitrary moral code makes me very sad. I stuck it out, however, and made it through to the next section, which is about illegal immigrants.

The section about illegal immigrants focuses mainly on strawberry pickers in the central valley of California. It talks about the poor working conditions of the illegal immigrants who migrate north every year from Mexico looking for work. He briefly touches on the history of agriculture in California, and its historical dependence on a low-paid “peasantry” to subsidize fruit, vegetables, and other cash crops.  Schlosser delved into the history of California agriculture more deeply than other books I’ve read, so I found it informative, though I wouldn’t mind an entire book entirely on this subject.  He deals with this subject objectively, discussing the costs and benefits of illegal immigrant serfdom from the point of view of growers and workers alike. It’s a complex issue, and he treats it as such. In the end of the book, Schlosser does give his opinion on what should be done RE: illegal immigration, but during this section he maintains objectivity.

The third section is by far the longest, dealing with the porn industry. I don’t watch porn, and know very little about it, so this was all new. I didn’t realize the extent to which obscenity laws curtailed pornographic or erotic images, and how much they fueled censorship and the war against contraception. He delves into the career or Ruben Sturman, who was the leading figure in the porn industry for most of the twentieth century, finally brought down int he 90s by a tax evasion suit. I found myself rooting for Sturman, and indignant at the cocky young IRS agent who devoted his life to bringing him in, like some twisted Javert dedicated to destroying Jean Valjean. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. I usually have little sympathy for tax evaders, but I also get indignant at a government that tells me I’ll be irrevocably harmed if I’m able to watch naughty movies.

I found the third section the least compeling, not because of its subject, but because of its length. The sections are not 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, but 1/4, 1/4, 1/2. I learned some new facts about the sex industry, but the long, complicated discussions of the legal battle against Ruben Sturman went on too long. Schlosser made pot, migrant labor, and porn a interesting, but he couldn’t do the same with tax evasion and laundering.

I recommend this book for people who are interested in political theory, especially for libertarians who like to get indignant.

View all my reviews

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