“Too High to Fail” claims to be the first in-depth journalistic expose of Mendocino County, California’s ordinance 9.31, the “zip-tie” program, which author Doug Fine hails as the first regulation of legal cannabis in the U.S. – yet the book devotes more space to editorializing versus factbased reporting. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (given Fine’s notable ability to crank out amusing witticisms by the page), the effect is to diminish the book’s value to readers experienced in cannabis culture while increasing its value to their mortified parents.
The book’s basic structure follows a Cashmere Kush clone nicknamed “Lucille” from its moment of birth (literally cut off from its mother) to its delivery as processed, cured bud to an elderly California man who uses it to treat the symptoms of his cancer. Fine takes his time getting to the plant itself, indulging several chapters with anecdotes reflecting the unique local color of Mendocino, a sprawling and mountainous county at the southern tip of California’s famous Emerald Triangle. He attempts to wring out significant mileage from the running gag of law enforcement acquiescence – and for seasoned veterans of the culture wars, these passages will be effective. Anyone who has spent significant time in Mendocino will often roll their eyes, wishing Fine would get to the point.
The remainder of the book follows Lucille, under the watchful eye of her caretaker Tomas Balogh, from planting to puffing. While Fine explores many of the economic aspects of growing in these passages, he wisely focuses more on the human characters surrounding her growth – the obsessive Balogh; the idealistic Matt Cohen of the Northstone Organics Collective; and Sheriff Tom Allman, who along with Deputy Randy Johnson (“not the pitcher”) enforce the county’s permitting program with pragmatic shrugs. The human elements allow Fine to have some humorous fun with some of the characters’ amusing foibles, which he manages to do without ever being mean-spirited.
Yet the book’s virtues are seriously undercut by its Manichean orthodoxy, which extols Obama-style liberalism and assumes as a matter of course that the reader wholeheartedly agrees. Not all do. Thus “Too High to Fail” runs a significant risk of alienating both the conservative half of America and the very growers who Fine rightfully praises and yet must endure withering and pernicious assaults by the Obama administration. And that is a terrible shame, since these are the very groups who could most benefit from reading Doug Fine’s well-reported and otherwise thoughtful dispatch from the front lines of cannabis legalization.
The book may lose traction with younger readers or infuriate any Republican; but for any child of a left-leaning but cannabis- cautious parent, “Too High to Fail” could make an excellent gift.
First appeared in Issue 7 of Cannabis Now Magazine.
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