Mile High: Adventures in Colorado Medical Marijuana by Mister V, isbn: 978-0989384346, © 2019, 8th Wonder Press (8thwonderpress.com), 322 pages.
Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America by Brian “Box” Brown (www.boxbrown.com), isbn: 978-1250154088, © April 2, 2019, :01 First Second (firstsecondbooks.com), 250 pages.
Book Reviews by Kevin Wolf
This is a difficult review to write. Book reviewers are often called critics. A memoir carries the additional critic’s problem that it could lead to personal hurt; after all criticizing the presentation could be taken very personally. From my perspective, nothing written here should be taken personally, it’s meant for outside readers, new to the topic at hand to learn more about that topic and decide for themselves if they want to read one or both of these graphic works. The first, Mile High: Adventures in Colorado Medical Marijuana by Mister V, a pseudonym, is a memoir of the early days of medical marijuana (MMJ) use in Colorado and the other, Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America by Brian “Box” Brown, is how marijuana became illegal, especially in the United States. They provide personal and historical context, respectively. Mister V. was also the author of his multi-volume DNR series, about his work at medical care facilities; and Box Brown has written other, non-medical graphic biographies.
Both graphic works are drawn in black and white, but with very different styles. Mile High includes grey water-color-like shading; most pages have detailed light- to dark-grey background images with a few non-personal educational-lessons (e.g. “What to do when police stop you” with MMJ) having solid white or grey backgrounds. Layouts were typical 2 x 3 square panels per page, though some pages combine two squares into horizontal rectangles and less than a handful of pages with 1-3 panels. The cover shows misty blue-haloed and yellow-horned-fanged faces with a stoned male between holding at his waist a large glass pipe in a green cloud. This work provides almost no history with dates, events, or context of how MMJ arrived in Colorado (CO); instead it provides Matt V.’s story of needing and acquiring MMJ in CO as a lesson to his niece, Lucy. Cannabis was simply drawn with almost no background images or shading, more layout variety than Mile High, and lots of white space. Mile High was primarily dialogue and Cannabis was mostly narration with intermittent dialogue of historical characters. They both cover how wrongly marijuana has been treated in the U.S. Mile High is missing narrative history of MMJ, and Cannabis as its subtitle explained is a history of how marijuana became illegal, but it only touches on MMJ. Mile High is an angry stoner’s tale while Cannabis is a sober rendition of events. Mile High reminds me slightly of Gilbert Shelton’s (later with Dave Sheridan & Paul Mavrides) The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers—from the Underground Comix era during the late-1960s and beyond—but without the humor. Perhaps Mile High would be funnier to a stoned reader. I highly recommend Cannabis. I give lukewarm support for Mile High because of what it left out and some of its confusing content.
Mile High opens with confusion by saying it’s “the future” but it means the present, only because the book was mostly written about past events via flashbacks … hence, confusion. The words, “the future” appears at the start of every chapter, but is totally unnecessary. Lucy is caught vaping, presumably nicotine, by her Uncle Matt V. (the author). Matt’s pissed and demands she not hang out with her “degenerate” supplier. She protests and turns the table by sniffing out Matt’s marijuana stash behind boxes in the garage. Now they become equals and Matt becomes a teacher. They both complain about each other’s flavors—Matt’s real marijuana, “Grape Ape,” he calls “… the caviar of Indica!” as opposed to Lucy’s vape oil. They play out the generation gap trope; Lucy: “Whatevs. This stuff’s nasty.” Matt: “YOU DON’T KNOW HOW EASY YOU’VE GOT IT!!!” Flashback to family friend—arrested for “transporting a couple ounces of weed across state lines” and imprisoned for ten years. Lucy is flabbergasted that marijuana carries imprisonment risk. Matt reminisces about his tripping, “when I was your age ….” Lucy enthused when she learned her mother, Matt’s sister, snuck a smoke in her grandparents’ back yard.
Matt got his Colorado (CO) red MMJ card because of his irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Though Lucy didn’t want to hear it, Matt gives his bowel trouble history starting in his childhood (‘colicky,’ ‘chronic adolescent constipation,’ ‘severe abdomen pain’) finally diagnosed as IBS in teen years. He got pills to stop the pain. After drug tolerance made the pills useless, he had nothing to stop the pain; he tried other drugs; one drug led to diarrhea so bad that he missed work that day; and the drug was recalled due to causing kidney failure. Matt says, “Sometimes instead of pain, I’d suddenly have to shit my guts out. Most times though, I’d have pains and the shits simultaneously.” Here’s where it would’ve been helpful to learn more details about what IBS actually is. Instead it’s not until about 300 pages later we learn that Matt was misdiagnosed! Though they are a large part of the book, I’m not writing much about the troubles between Matt’s drug use and his relationship with his wife and in-laws, because these aren’t resolved; there’s only friction, while Matt remains stoned almost continuously for years … at least until he receives the correct diagnosis, but even then he still overindulges.
Before then, we learn how difficult it was to acquire legal MMJ—on the run down side of town—in Denver CO. Good editing could have played a better role here to greatly shorten the book (e.g. it wasn’t necessary to read over and over about the same acquisition difficulties, sleazy/incompetent retailers, bureaucratic forms, etc.); instead this could have probably cut the book by at least half to provide narrative lessons (some provided below in what’s missing from Mile High). Matt found—before MMJ became legal—that the only thing that eased his stomach pains was smoking marijuana. His sister suggests to Matt that he get a CO MMJ red card. To its credit the book’s narration indicates CO legalized medical marijuana in 2000 [but with no other detail, like it was the Medical Use of Marijuana Initiative] but doesn’t say when Matt’s events occur. The author tries to make Matt’s stomach pain palpable by discussing it and illustrating it on numerous occasions. We see incompetent doctors who later lose their license and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act) violations by making a script out for another patient and giving it to Matt. It takes over 12 hours for Matt to get his first MMJ prescription filled, which almost plays out in real time for the reader. Matt does acknowledge that MMJ alleviates the pain, but mostly he’s mad and frustrated … on almost every page.
The book concludes with lessons for Lucy, who isn’t even awake enough to absorb them, to not use marijuana, because it’s dangerous, addictive to “feelin’ good,” sometimes a gateway drug, and has a health risk of getting fat from munchies; while there are many benefits like, “relieve things like headaches, stomach aches, chronic joint pain …,” promotes creativity and “relieving the monotony that comes with so many aspects of making comics for a living.” Too bad some of that monotony wasn’t prevented by shortening Mile High.
Here are some of my other criticisms of Mile High:
- The language is often scatological and redundantly graphic (e.g., several times it shows Matt vomiting, “If I got overexcited, I might even throw up. Sometimes I’d have to lean over the bathtub to puke while I was shitting.”)
- The dialogue is too wordy.
- This graphic work has no sense of the excitement of using an illicit substance that was part of the 1960s; nor does it present any gratefulness that the rules are changing (like MMJ is even available); rather it’s a long polemic filled with anger and frustration about MMJ in CO and messed up family relationships from MMJ use.
- Mile High, being a lesson to his niece, rarely comes back to actually seeing the niece. Lucy appears on about 30 of 322 pages.
- This graphic work came out in 2019, so I would expect that the process to get MMJ is currently fairly efficient; but isn’t brought up to date, except with some cleaner scenes at his Granby, CO dispensary toward the end of the work. Mile High mostly shows MMJ acquisition as a bureaucratic nightmare and the dispensaries as sleazy often with non-existent edibles packaging and no descriptions of contents; unlike the actual rules. For example, The Code of Colorado Regulations in the Secretary of State’s office of the State of Colorado has 255 pages of rules from Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division on marijuana retailing that’s never mentioned. It can be found at: www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/ColoradoRegister.pdf1%20CCR%20212%20-2%20Retail%20Effective%2002022018.pdf. There are record-keeping, inventory tracking, packaging, labeling, marketing, and prohibited substance requirements among numerous other regulations. There are 31 pages of Labeling, Packaging, and Product Safety requirements (R 1000, 162-192) in the regulations, which never seem to be followed by the fictionalized (?) retailers in Mile High.
- The work doesn’t provide MMJ CO historical events (How and when did MMJ come into existence? Public involvement? Etc.).
- Doesn’t directly explain instructions on how to get Colorado (CO) MMJ red card; but indirectly shows Matt doing things, like signing unknown papers, getting doctor’s approval, assigning a caregiver (took many pages to understand that “caregiver” means MMJ dispensary), paying fees for notary, and waiting three months for the card to arrive.
- The work doesn’t mention diagnoses denied in CO for MMJ: asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes mellitus types 1 & 2, diabetic retinopathy, hepatitis C, hypertension, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), opioid dependence, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD, surprising!), severe anxiety & clinical depression, and Tourette’s Syndromei. Nor does the work provide a complete list of what diagnoses can have MMJ prescribed: Cancer, AIDS/HIV, glaucoma, severe pain, seizures, cachexia, severe nausea, and persistent muscle spasms. The book only mentions IBS diagnosis, which is no longer accepted; and Tourette’s Syndrome, also not permitted.
- There’s no bibliography because this is only one person’s story; though a list of resources would’ve been helpful; like www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/medical-marijuana-online-registration-system-frequently-asked-questions-faq (frequently asked questions available at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE)).
- There’s no list of states that allow MMJ or recreational marijuana. According to a Business Insider article as of January 1, 2020 twenty-two states (AR, AZ, CT, DE, FL, HI, LA, MD, MN, MO, MT, ND, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, UT, WV) allow MMJ, while eleven states (AK, CA, CO, IL, MA, ME, MI, NV, OR, VT, WA) permit both medical and recreational marijuana.
Cannabis overcomes some of Mile High’s shortcomings. Cannabis provides a lot of historical information, including a bibliography and web resources. However, MMJ plays a minor role in Cannabis. Cannibis is fact-filled; pointing out political events and exaggerations of malfeasance claimed to be caused by cannabis. It shows that some of the same twisted politics today in the U.S. aren’t new, but were used against cannabis in the 1930s; like fabricated, xenophobic, racist, drug-fueled crimes argued wrongly for political action.
For being a book on illegalization of weed, this graphic work opens by educating the reader in a few straightforward pages on the medical effects of smoking cannabis. “[The smoke] passed through the sacs in the lungs called alveoli. They absorbed a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.THC, with … cannabinoids … CBN travels in the bloodstream to the brain … interact with … anandamide. … This reduced any inflammation in the body … nausea was alleviated … pain was dulled … mood was elevated and … creativity was stimulated.” Negative effects for some include becoming paranoid, hallucinations, “disorientation, short-term memory impairment, and even heightened sensitivity to pain.”
This graphic work gives an excellent pre- and modern history of cannabis. Only a bit of the detailed history is given here. Cannabis began its modern usage from refinement in the 1890s of English-colonial India from hemp (aka, bhang); though it had been used for centuries before then by Indian Sadhus. Eventually, marijuana traveled to Mexico and progressed into the U.S. and fanned racist claims. And later … Mormon Church, polygamy, and marijuana use became intertwined, when polygamy was banned by the church in 1904 and many fled to Mexico to continue polygamy. After the Mexican revolution (1910), “cannabis was sold at general stores or pharmacies” in the U.S. “Racist and false rumors spread,” especially in Texas, that cannabis from Mexican immigrants caused violent behavior. “When [Mormons from Mexico] returned to Utah, the Mormon Church officially banned cannabis. … In 1915 the Utah state legislature enacted all Mormon prohibitions as state law.” “El Paso became the first city to outlaw cannabis” in 1915. Some states followed with cannabis prohibitions.
Harry J. Anslinger, 1930 first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) in U.S. Treasury Department, “bought into all of the false rumors people believed about cannabis.” Initially, the FBN dealt with heroin; new laws made drug companies the sole manufacturers of heroin. FBN didn’t care about cannabis … yet. Pressure mounted to regulate cannabis. In 1939 FBN did a survey of quality, location, medical needs, etc. of “Indian Hemp [i.e. cannabis].” “Of the 30 respondents only one recounted a cautionary tale [of one addict from WWI service].” Anslinger sent agents to New Orleans to acquire reefer. They found it arrived on fruit ships from Central America and falsely claimed “overindulgence causes violence, irresponsibility, and viciousness.”
United Nations in 1961 created the Convention on Narcotic Drugs whose signatories had to follow a drug classification system which listed cannabis, “against expert opinion,” in the most restrictive category as not being appropriate for use except in research.
Cannabis mentions MMJ a few times. In 1976 Bob Randall was arrested for growing cannabis. He said he needed it for his glaucoma. He successfully petitioned the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to get into a research program to be part of a fourteen-person study. “Those fourteen people involved in Randall’s program were the first government-sanctioned medical cannabis patients in the United States.” President Reagan with First Lady Nancy had their “Just Say No!” campaign against illicit drugs, including marijuana. President Reagan detrimentally delayed acknowledging AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) until the late 1980s. Many AIDS patients had underground acquisition of cannabis to ease the horrible symptoms (e.g. lack of appetite, insomnia, pain) before other treatments became available. The first medical cannabis clubs were developed secretly in San Francisco (“These were illegal but safe places where AIDS patients and those with other conditions could purchase cannabis without worrying about violence or scams.”). The first MMJ law passed with 55% in favor for California’s 1996 Proposition 215 (Compassionate Use Act) which made medical cannabis legal in that state.
To its credit, the back cover of Mile High has the following description: “Set in the early days of Colorado’s medical marijuana legalization … at a time in Colorado history when the industry was beset by loose regulations, sketchy characters, and unknown product.” However, since the book was published in 2019, it should’ve made some attempt at bringing the MMJ scene of the early 2000s up to the 20-teens level. Otherwise, the book only provides Matt’s frustrations with MMJ acquisition and painful interrelationships.
1 From www.civilized.life/articles/history-of-marijuana-in-colorado/ February 3, 2020
2 From mmjamerica.com a marijuana dispensary on February 2, 2020
3 From ”Legal marijuana just went on sale in Illinois. Here are all the states where cannabis is legal” by Jeremy Berke and Skye Gould in Business Insider www.businessinsider.com/legal-marijuana-states-2018-1 on February 18, 2020