Book Review: Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, Eric Schlosser (2004)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Reefer Madness, the Brown Scare & Sex Crazed Fascis

five out of five stars

In REEFER MADNESS, Eric Schlosser looks at the effects of U.S. policy on the underground or “black market” economy. Specifically, he examines three diverse “commodities” – “recreational” or illegal drugs (specifically, marijuana), cheap labor (provided by undocumented workers or “illegal aliens” from Mexico and South America), and “adult” materials (primarily pornography) – and the American “war” on each. Schlosser narrows the scope of his study by focusing on a few key players in each of these underground economies: Mark Young, a recreational pot smoker and middleman who was given a life sentence for brokering a marijuana deal; California strawberry farmers and the migrant workers who pick the finicky fruit; and Reuben Sturman, a “pioneer” of the porn industry (and a jackbooted thug).

REEFER MADNESS is an engaging study of what happens when a supposedly free and democratic government attempts to stomp out vices that it deems morally corrupt. The section on U.S. drug policy is especially enlightening – and quite relevant, given the current upsurge in drug-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Pornography receives the lion’s share of attention, seemingly at the expense of immigration, which is a shame; I felt as though Schlosser barely scratched the surface of the latter, while I grew bored of Reuben Sturman’s story by the end of the book. Schlosser concludes REEFER MADNESS by tying all three tales together, thus making a larger statement about civil liberties and the strengths and weaknesses of the “free market” in the U.S. Again, though, he probably could have devoted more pages to this synthesis had he not lingered on Sturman and pornography.

Overall, it’s a fascinating and engaging read, and vividly demonstrates why all American citizens should be concerned with their government’s attempts to regulate individual conduct – even if it’s conduct with which you may personally disagree.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)