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Al Olson

April 12, 2016

Humans have enjoyed marijuana for about 12,000 years. It is now recreationally legal in four states and medically legal in roughly half of the country. In America, 18.9 million have sparked a joint in the past 30 days.

I first sampled the wonders of weed while attending San Rafael High School, the northern California institution of learning that introduced the term “420” to the popular vernacular in the early 1970s. Over the ensuing decades, I have enjoyed a steady relationship with the kind herb. I have run one of the largest, most-profitable marijuana websites. I witnessed my wife successfully medicate with marijuana as she went through breast cancer treatment. I consider myself cannabis savvy.

So why would I need yet another book telling me how to use this ancient herb? Because even the most experienced stoner doesn’t know everything. And if your last bong rip was in a dorm room 15 years ago, you may be a bit behind the learning curve.

David Schmader, best known for his 15 years writing for the Stranger, gives us Weed: The User’s Guide, a smartly written pot primer. But it is the subtitle – A 21st Century Handbook for Enjoying Marijuana – that provides the ultimate hook for this book. The marijuana culture is changing in light speed. Indeed, the culture has morphed into an actual industry. And with industry, comes innovation.

Schmader’s user’s guide offers an education on vaporization, edibles, etiquette, safety and a whole host of pot topics. For those of us who are intimately familiar with the herb, Schmader does a wonderful job keeping us entertained. For the pot newbie, this book is essential reading.

Schmader first takes the reader on an enjoyable trip through cannabis history: From “when the first cannabis plant pushed its spiky leaflets up through the grasslands of the Eurasian steppe” through the Reagan-era “Just Say No” nonsense to today’s quasi-legal status.

The book is chockfull of tips and hilarious asides (Did you know an apple can be converted into a smoking device? Did you know watching the “hilarious terrible 1995 stripper drama Showgirls” is enhanced immensely by a few hits? Did you know that taking a whiff of black pepper can help those who feel paranoia creeping up on them while stoned?) Schmader also addresses hot-button issues such as drug safety, endocannabinoid science and increased marijuana potency.

But the book will mostly resonate with those who are new to the herb or are interested in what all the hubbub is all about.

When you roll a joint, does it look like a failed origami project? Schmader offers up a five-page, step-by-step tutorial with illustrations. Willie Nelson may not need the tip, but I’ve smoked more than my fair share of sloppily rolled pinners. The book also provides a few recipes, including one for brownies (I think every marijuana book comes with a brownie recipe).

Reading Weed: The User’s Guide is not a chapter-by-chapter linear experience. Schmader presents each chapter independently and expertly. It is clear from his playful tone that he is knows his weed.

But for Schmader, it’s not just about getting high. He dedicates this book to “every American imprisoned for nonviolent marijuana possession, whose fates must be rectified through legislative action if legal marijuana is ever to be considered a truly guilt-free pleasure.”

Schmader concludes his primer with a note how to get involved in the cause for legalization because even though those of us in this state enjoy our legal herb, many Americans are still being arrested for it.

Schmader final words of advice: “Clean your bong and call your mother.” Who could argue with that?

Books in this review:
  • Weed: The User's Guide
    by David Schmader
    Sasquatch Books
    April 05, 2016
    208 pages
    Provided by publisher
    Buy on IndieBound

About the writer

Al is a journalist with nearly 40 years of experience in print and online media, and a long-time advocate for marijuana legalization.

Olson began his journalism career working at a handful of daily newspapers in California, including the San Jose Mercury News, where he was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. In 1995, he left the world of print journalism to help launch as one of its founding editors. He spent most of the past 20 years pioneering online journalism at, and In 2014, he was named the first Managing Editor for, a cannabis news and community source.

Follow Al Olson on Twitter: @alolson59

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