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Cannabis: An American History

2 April 2019

Box Brown is the world's pre-eminent creator of non-fiction graphic novels. Spanning subjects from wrestling to video games, his award-winning books - always surprising, witty and insightful - dig deep into the cultural history of the 20th century. His latest graphic novel, Cannabis: An American History, unravels another complex subject: the history of marijuana in the U.S.A.

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The book begins in 16th century Mexico. It was while waging his violent colonial campaigns that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés introduced hemp farming to the Americas.
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Over the next few centuries, cultivators observed that some of the plants were growing buds. At some point, they discovered the effects of consuming these buds. Gradually they began to cultivate the hemp for consumption, and in doing so changed its very nature: the buds grew larger and the stems less fibrous.
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In the early 20th century, the Mexican Revolution sent Mexican people fleeing north, with cannabis culture in tow.
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Marijuana entered the U.S.A. by means of the immigrant labour force and was eagerly shared among black workers. Of course, it didn't take long for law-makers to decry cannabis as the vice of "inferior races".
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So began an era of propaganda designed to feed a moral panic about a plant that had been used by humanity for thousands of years.

In Cannabis: An American History, Box Brown takes a deep dive into America's complicated and racialised relationship with weed, which continues to this day.