Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America


How earnest hippies, frightened parents, suffering patients, and other ordinary Americans went to war over marijuana.

In the last five years, eight states have legalized recreational marijuana. To many, continued progress seems certain. But pot was on a similar trajectory forty years ago, only to encounter a fierce backlash.

Emily Dufton holds a PhD in American Studies from George Washington University.


In Grass Roots, historian Emily Dufton tells the remarkable story of marijuana’s crooked path from acceptance to demonization and back again, and of the thousands of grassroots activists who made changing marijuana laws their life’s work.During the 1970s, pro-pot campaigners with roots in the counterculture secured the drug’s decriminalization in a dozen states. Soon, though, concerned parents began to mobilize; finding a champion in Nancy Reagan, they transformed pot into a national scourge and helped to pave the way for an aggressive war on drugs.

Chastened marijuana advocates retooled their message, promoting pot as a medical necessity and eventually declaring legalization a matter of racial justice. For the moment, these activists are succeeding–but marijuana’s history suggests how swiftly another counterrevolution could unfold.


Grass Roots is worth the time for anyone interested in the evolution of American drug laws. It’s organized effectively, the writing is clear and crisp, and you can read it all in maybe two long flights, assuming your head is clear.”―Wall Street Journal

“[An] even-handed chronicle… As Grass Roots expertly shows, the dialectical struggle over this most politically charged of products is far from over. We can put that in our pipes and smoke it.”―Portland Oregonian

“Americans may now walk by medical marijuana dispensaries on their streets and encounter full legalization initiatives on their ballots. Dufton’s book provocatively asks (and answers) the question: Why did this take so long? … Grass Roots reorients the celebratory drug legalization story that is so often told today in a number of ways… [it] shows not just the caprice of U.S. drug policy, but how quickly and dramatically the legal and social changes called for by the hippie generation were quashed, creating a backlash still felt today.”―New Republic

“A handy guide for weed activists who are returning to the fray with greater vigor than ever before, especially now that the Trump administration is rescinding Obama-era federal protections for the recreational cannabis industry.”―Merry Jane

“Well researched and packed with insightful analysis… Grass Roots is the best non-autobiographical account of the modern effort to reform U.S. cannabis laws. It’s must-read.”―Freedom Leaf Magazine

“Dufton’s work expertly shows the cyclical nature of our society’s relationship with marijuana, as well as the deeply entrenched racial and class divides that have added to the illicit nature of the complex drug.”―The Riveter

“Dufton’s book helps us learn from the mistakes of the past and apply that knowledge to the movement to legalize cannabis.”―Culture

“Dufton’s balanced and thoroughly researched book traces the long and still unwinding history of marijuana policy and activism in the U.S.”―Booklist

“A comprehensive history of marijuana legalization in America…Dufton puts years of dedicated research, interviews, and social scrutiny to impressive use…The author’s astute, well-rounded report spotlights the virtual tug of war of the movement and pays close attention to each side’s setbacks and advancements. She presents an engrossing, evenhanded timeline of the marijuana legalization revolution and its backlash…A lively, perceptive refresher course on the politics of pot.”―Kirkus Reviews

“Dufton makes a potent argument that, ‘more than any other legal or illegal substance, marijuana is a drug that makes people care.'”―Publishers Weekly

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