News / Vancouver

'Heart of Dankness' delves into underground world of pot connoisseurs

Author and L.A. Times contributor Mark Haskell Smith has smoked a lot of dope, but he doesn't want that to deter people who have not from reading his new book, "Heart of Dankness."

It documents his journey from the medical marijuana dispensaries of California to the coffee shops of Amsterdam in search of the world's finest reefer. It's there where he meets the underground botanists behind the race for the "Cannabis Cup," a fierce international competition that is to pot connoisseurs what the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles is to wine aficionados.

"A lot of people who write about this world are a part of that world, so they're preaching to the choir, and I wanted to write a book that people who didn't smoke anything, didn't know anything, could read and really have kind of an armchair tour of this really amazing subculture," said Haskell Smith during a brief stop on his book tour in Vancouver Thursday.

"Dankness," as Haskell Smith found out in his research, is a term that is hard to define, but the award-winning writer does his darnedest. Depending who you ask, it can be an ephemeral quality of very well bred marijuana, or the sense of community among people opposed to anti-marijuana laws.

If it's the latter, Haskell Smith is definitely an outspoken advocate of dankness.

"I think that everyone in North America could learn from (Holland's) soft-drug policy," he said, explaining he believes the war on drugs allows criminals to push harder substances on people who would otherwise stick to pot.

"In Holland they realized that if we just let people buy cannabis, we'll sever that connection to all those hard drugs... it keeps people, particularly teenagers, from getting into heroin or something."

He said the Canadian government "should be ashamed of themselves" for extraditing Vancouver's own "Prince of Pot," Marc Emery -- "a guy who sold gardening supplies" -- to the U.S., where he remains incarcerated.

Part creative non-fiction, part travel guide, Haskell Smith's latest work runs the risk of following the trajectory of other memoirs such as "Eat Pray Love," which sparked a tourism boom after it became of best-seller, with thousands of readers tracing the author's footsteps. He said that was kind of the idea.

"They could go to the Grey Area coffee shop, smoke a little Chocolope, you know, walk over here, there's tons they could do," he said, referencing a famous coffee shop in the book that sells some of the "dankest" Mary Jane in the world. "They'll have a good time."

If Amsterdam isn't in the cards, readers can still have a good time just sitting back and absorbing "Heart of Dankness" from the comfort of their living rooms -- or witness the culture first-hand next Friday at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

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