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Mimbres author Doug Fine's new book is Too High to Fail

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The Literary Life

Going to Pot

In his new book, Too High to Fail, Mimbres author Doug Fine
argues for taking the crime out of cannabis.

by Donna Clayton Walter

 

 

Doug Fine leans back in a chair on his porch, his mountain-man beard, tattered baseball cap — "Hemp!" he points out proudly — and somewhat goofy shades pulling together his quirky, multi-faceted, down-home persona of successful back-to-nature author, family man and adventurer.

fine
Author Doug Fine sits on his porch at Funky Butte Ranch, holding a copy of his latest book, Too High to Fail.
(Photo by Donna Clayton Walter)

"Well, it's kind of cool, satisfying really, to think that researching the war on drugs is paying my mortgage right now," Fine says with a laugh.

But before you think this laid-back father of two and respectable author getting ready to go on book tour is suggesting he's got a marijuana business growing in the back field of his 41-acre Funky Butte Ranch in the Mimbres, think again. Or, as he says in his new book, Too High to Fail, "If you were inclined to stereotype, incline the other way."

While Fine is thoroughly convinced of the need to end the so-called war on drugs and decriminalize cannabis — the "go-to" term that includes the psychedelic "medical" version of the plant, as well as the industrial (fiber) and biofuel aspects — he hasn't put himself on the frontlines of actually growing. In fact, he jokes, "I'm just not a really good farmer! I'm good with livestock, like the ducks and the chickens and the goats. I'm good with protein. But I don't really do plants well."

No, that's for the brave people he interviewed, he says, the "courageous people who talked to me on the record about what they are doing, who are doing the actual farming, people out there on the front lines of this thing. We're still talking about felonies, here," he says. "People in the cannabis business are risking a Federal raid" — and Fine details one such raid that happened when he was on site, researching for the book — "yet, these people spoke to me."

Rather than growing his own crop, Fine says, he has been paying the bills with speaking engagements, sales and the like coming out of his last book, Farewell, My Subaru (see "Green Acres," March 2008). So he has been very thankful for the advance on this new book, published by Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), which comes out this month.

"Yeah, we're big on penguins around here," he says, making a light-hearted quip on his publisher's name, as one of his young sons holds up a stuffed-penguin hand puppet. As his two-year-old toddles around and the four-year-old snaps pictures of the family dog with the reporter's camera, Fine smiles at their antics and talks about how he hopes his book may encourage progress in the decriminalization of "herb," as the plant is sometimes fondly called in his well-researched and scholarly-yet-approachable book.

 

To research the issue and make his case for decriminalization — one based largely on cold hard financial facts as opposed to, say, impassioned pleas for freedom of choice or compassionate arguments about the much-discussed "medical marijuana program" — Fine packed up his family and left Funky Butte behind for a spell. He spent "pretty much the entire growing season" in Mendocino County, Calif. There he got to know and learn about the daily struggles of those who do the actual growing, processing, distributing and purchasing of cannabis.

One of the more surprising facts he came across, Fine says, is the sheer prevalence of the business. In Mendocino County, he points out, there are an estimated 5,000 rural residents (out of 80,000) involved in the cannabis business. This generated some $6 billion last year, compared to just $74 million from the area's "official" crop — wine, of course!

In California, cannabis generated just over $100 million in taxes, mostly on medical marijuana. And it is reported that 100 million Americans have, um, "inhaled." A whopping 12 million to 20 million used cannabis in the last year. Big business? You bet!

The book is laced with amusing facts about the, well, "industry" of cannabis. Fine quotes one woman as saying, "Nothing would be here without herb," indicating that a storefront on a small downtown Main Street serves as just a tax base for that family's thriving cannabis business. He talks about small towns where cannabis is such a big part of the local commerce that dollar bills give off the distinctive smell of pot, owing to the fragrant terpenes in the plant's chemical composition.

Along with inspiring interviews and digging up staggering statistics, Fine says, he also just plain had fun writing the book, coming up with puns on the words "weed," "buds" and so forth. And while his editor allowed a number of such tongue-in-cheek references, he says, "She had me take some of them out so the book would be taken seriously." Then he adds with a laugh, "Then she goes and throws a joint on the cover!" In fact, under the book's title there is a marijuana cigarette in the form of a dollar bill stuffed with what might humorously be called "MaryJane."

 

One chapter, "Meeting the Patients," is poignant and personal, introducing the reader to people with painful and even terminal medical conditions that were improved with the use of medical marijuana. This goes well beyond the average layperson's impression of saving cancer patients by giving them the munchies so they can find their appetites and keep something down after their chemo treatments. Fine lays out the facts about other aspects of how cannabis can be used medically by talking about patients whose pain was unresponsive to "standard treatment" drugs — including the now-banned Vioxx — but who now thrive, eat and walk normally with cannabis as their medication.

 

 

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