Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market

ISBN: 0965762645
ISBN 13: 9780965762649
By: Eric Schlosser

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I read and enjoyed Fast Food Nation several years ago. This book is by the same author, Eric Schlosser.None of the detail or commentary in this book is original, but it is put together in a compelling package and in a manor that makes you think about how some of the laws and prejudices that we have in place are that way, and it just may make you think to question that.There is a quote in the ending narration of the book that talked about what Freedom means, and it said that if you are going to be a nation with Freedom then you have to be willing to accept the good and the not necessarily so good that comes with it. That really hit home with me. While I'm not for example a supporter of pot smoking or paying immigrant farm workers extremely low wages, I don't necessarily think that the way our government currently treats these situations is the best either.It is a compelling read, agree or disagree it should make you think about it.Thumbs Up.


This book is fun in the way that 'Freakonomics' is fun, discussing business practices that more conservative economists will completely stay away from despite the obvious fact that they help drive the economy in a big way. If you think libertarians are right on for inciting a radically de-regulated take on capitalism, you will love this book. The drugs section is probably the saddest, documenting the story of a down and out midwesterner sentenced to maximum security prison for his limited involvement in a large marijuana deal. Although it is nowhere officially documented, marijuana is estimated to be as high as the third biggest cash crop for small time midwestern farmers. I found that out from this book. The pornography section is pretty fascinating too, since it looks at 30 years of the industry's history through the rise and sort of fall of this guy whose genius at doing illegal business without getting prosecuted for it is truly amazing. It all starts with him hand delivering dirty photos at the corner store, moves on to a covert warehouse operation in Cleveland, and expands to become a network of production and distribution companies all owned by phantom businesses whose money is laundered through international banks and filtered back to the kingpin through yet other holdings without his name appearing on a single document. In other words, it's the American dream story retold in a way that no-one claimed to approve of but still helped support. I'm sure the movie will come out about this guy someday. Anyway, this book is well written and much more naughty than Fast Food Nation (which is also really good). Libertarians dig in!


An insubstantial book of very specific american interest. The "notes" section is impressively thick and responsibly detailed, although perhaps a little too thick and detailed for such an impressionistic survey of the disconnected subjects it covers. Personally the "case study" approach didn't work for me, although it made for a more engaging narrative thread to tie up the analysis. Schlosser is shy of making loud moral statements, despite dealing with thorny issues, and prefers to make observations about the bigger picture, making glib references to ancient Rome and medieval Christianity. I thought these parts cheapened the journalistic tone and their only value was to point towards some interesting further reading in the bibliography. I would personally have preferred a more frank moral assessment from Schlosser himself. Overall I wouldn't recommend it, except for some interesting insight into how illegal labor is structured (Schlosser unfortunately misses the chance to draw the bigger picture here).


After reading Schlosser's earlier work, Fast Food Nation, I excitedly jumped into his latest work, Reefer Madness. I was disappointed.This book felt like three other research projects he did - three projects that were on his B list. While he devoted an entire book to the the history and implication of the Fast Food industry in Fast Food Nation, he just cobbled together three subjects.The first dealt with the views of marijuana by our government. Growing up in the Nancy Regan "Just Say No" world I always figured that government was against marijuana. In fact, the first official American government laws on marijuana asked Americans to GROW marijuana.There were long biographies of particular marijuana farmers which I found a little long. People who were simply growing marijuana or trafficking marijuana spent more time in prisons than many murderers. Judges were given wide berths in the interpretation of trafficking, possession, and the amounts of marijuana. Sadly enough, some of the harshest critics of recreational drugs had their own children just have to attend community service and a nominal fine. Ironically, Charles Keating, Jr., who spent millions of taxpayer money on anti-drug campaigns, would get into jail for billion dollar fraud in the S&L scandals.The second essay was about immigration workers . This has been talked about ad nauseum and the amount of page devoted hardly give it justice. I learned a lot about strawberries, but perhaps working in a Hispanic newspaper for the past four years makes it harder to give me great new insightThe third essay was about the growth of pornography mostly covering the life of a certain porn mogul (not Larry Flynt). The book lightly touched on some of the hypocrosies on our public view of porn and our private habits. There were a number of fascinating points in this essay but it just lacked focus.That pretty much sums the book up. I congratulate Eric on a fine job of research and almost thundering together a book that would shake our thinking.


Many of the themes in "Fast Food Nation" return here, particularly in the section on migrant labor: Reading it, you quickly become aware of the corner into which our economy has backed itself. As is the case with the fast-food industry, the low costs we take for granted are only possible at the expense of the workers who produce these products. The section on pot is particularly disturbing as well; among other things, it's yet another reminder of what a disaster mandatory minimum sentencing laws have created in the penal system, and what terribly thought-out political window dressing these laws are. I know you don't want to read it, but really, please do.


Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market310 pages© 2003 Eric SchlosserWhat do pornography, marijuana, and migrant labor have in common? They're all factors in an underground economy, a vast web of cash-heavy transactions barred (or limited) by laws and social mores, but which generate substantial wealth for those willing to risk criminality. Reefer Madness contains thre seperate exposes on these subjects by the author of Fast Food Nation, followed by a conclusion which attempts to tie them together and glean some general lessons about the black market. Although the three don't quite fit together as well as Schlosser might hope, each piece is well worth considering on its own, pointed as well as entertaining.Although "An Empire of the Obscene" is something of an oddity (pornography isn't illegal), the preceding sections ("Reefer Madness" and "In the Strawberty Fields") address subject alive and well in American politics today. All three mix colorful history and contemporary exposition which reveal both fascinating trivia and lessons about the specific subjects and the black market in general. The underground economy is not marginal, and its size should concern us not because of potential tax revenues lost by corrupt porn kings like Reuben Sturman, but because they fundamentally alter the rules that everyone else plays by. The use of undocumented workers in California, for instance, keeps food prices artifically low and stifles innovation by allowing companies to be dependent on cheap labor, just as the American south stagnated based on its use of slave labor. Considering the conditions migrant workers are forced to live in, the comparison to slavery is most apt. Despite the long-term consequences of allowing this behavior to go on -- tolerating it because it keeps food cheap -- the US government's attitude toward companies that seek out migrant labor is far too lenient. In other cases, the government is far too heavy-handed. This is the case with marijuana; Schlosser covers our bizaare obsession with it, which far exceed the concern the facts would merit we have. In what other nation can a person receive a lighter sentence for murder than selling a largely harmless drug? Considering the US's economic woes, decriminalizing the drug would go a long way in freeing up police and prison resources that could be better used elsewhere.Schlosser believes that a study of the black market can teach us about the market in general -- and namely, impart the lesson that Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' is not always one of providence. It is one, in fact, that can lead to great abuses (like exploitation of migrant labor). What they excel in providing us outside the bounds of the law tells us secrets about ourselves; that we have a 'deep psychosis' regarding marijuana, for instance, and that Puritanical rejection of sexuality is out of line with human nature. Reefer Madness is a call for sensibly-informed moderation, although it misses one point certainly worth mentioning, that foolish laws, or the lack of laws when they are crucially needed, saps the public's respect for law in general.Choice quotations:We have been told for years to bow down before 'the market'. We have placed our faith in the laws of supply and demand. What has been forgotten, or ignored, is that the market rewards only efficiency. Every other human value gets in its way. [...] No deity that man have ever worshiped is more ruthless and more hollow than the free market unchecked. [...] p. 108Black markets will always be with us. But they will recede in importance when our public morality is consistent with our private one. The underground is a good measure of the progress and health of nations. When much is wrong, much needs to be hidden.p. 221Related:Off the Books: the Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir VenkateshFast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser


Reefer Madness is not so much a collective novel as much as it is a collection of three essays with a unifying theme. The unifying theme is meant to be the undermining and corruptive “black market” of marijuana, illegal immigrant workers and the porn industry. While each essay has its strengths, the theme as a whole does not really work.The theme is weak in part because the “black market” aspects of each topic are corruptive in completely different ways. The first essay is the most effective and is about the ridiculous sentences charged to those people who produce, distribute and consume marijuana, sentences that are often vastly more severe than those passed out to violent criminals such as murderers, rapists and child molesters. The author Eric Schlosser, who also wrote Fast Food Nation, clearly has no love for big business and an unchecked profit motive. Schlosser makes the argument there is no real reason for the criminalization of marijuana other than the fact there is no money in it. If pharmaceutical companies could package it and sell it as profitably as a pill, it would probably be in every corner pharmacy. While I agree with many of the assertions Schlosser makes for the hypocritical reasons marijuana remains illegal, I am not sure if I believe pot is quite as innocuous as Schlosser suggests. The most effective part of the piece by far is Schlosser’s description of the people affected by the harsh penalties, especially one poor individual who was sentenced to life in prison for merely introducing a buyer and a seller. The section also describes the lengths to which some of these people go to avoid capture. The narrative, if nothing else, is an interesting read.Schlosser’s description of the plight of California immigrant strawberry pickers is equally effective. Much like he did with the meatpacking workers in Fast Food Nation, Schlosser illustrates a group of people with no rights who nonetheless risk everything to do backbreaking work in the hot sun for 12 hours a day because it is still better than the options back home. If nothing else, it acts as a kind reminder of some perspective when complaining about some of life’s smaller inconveniences.The last essay is by far the weakest, which was surprising. To have the porn industry detailed by a reporter of Schlosser’s pedigree seemed like an excellent opportunity to examine the hypocritical, two-faced Puritan roots of this country. While some of that is explored, the essay is far and away dominated by the story of one man who rose up through the industry, gained enormous wealth, and then lost it all and was sent to jail because of tax evasion. That’s right tax evasion. Not because he broke any ethical laws over the materials themselves, but because he skimmed millions off the top and was sent to jail for it. The guy is clearly meant to be seen as a persecuted hero but I did not entirely buy it.

Brandon T.

Eric Schlosser has made a name for himself by probing behind the scenes of popular American phenomena. He became famous for Fast Food Nation, which was later turned into a film.Schlosser's subject matter may trend towards the pop world, but his cross of investigative journalism and postmodernist sociology is both fresh and informative. It is obvious that he takes his material as seriously as any professional observer, and the reader reaps the reward of his work in the form of a much clearer understanding of the ways that American culture impacts the lives of real individuals.In this book, Schlosser explores the American black market trade, as it has developed around three much different parts of society - the world of marijuana cultivation and sale, the immigrant labor market in California's fruit fields, and the nearly legitimized pornography industry.Although there is a bit of a disconnect from section to section (which makes the book read almost like three), each is explored in detail, from multiple angles. He uses many reliable sources, interviews, histories, and his own observation to bring the reader into these rarely seen realms that nevertheless constitute indispensable columns of the American industrial/economic empire.


Well written, but overall badly done....don't bother. This follows Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which was an excellent, well-researched piece of journalism. But this book is very disappointing. It is supposed to investigate three illegal markets...marijuana, illegal immigrants, and pornography. The section on illegal immigration is less than 35 pages, which is pathetic and doesn't even skim the surface. (He confines his discussion to agricultural workers, leaving our all other categories of illegal immigrant labor.) The section on pot is detailed, but still misses a lot. But the most annoying (and longest) section is on porn. While trying to convince readers that the pornographer he's focusing on was treated unjustly, he criticizes the government for treating the man like 'organized crime'. Then he describes the guy's tactics for tax evasion, intimidation, threats, and even paying people who bombed his adversaries...if that isn't organized crime than I'm a natural blonde with a weight problem. Also, what have popular authors got against footnotes? He's got oodles of references at the back of the book, but you can't really link them to statements in the body. I don't recommend this at all.

Vince Darcangelo

This review originally appeared in the BOULDER WEEKLY from the Underground NationThrough pot, produce and peep shows, Eric Schlosser explores America’s shadow Vince Darcangelo- - - - - - - - - - - - A poor Midwestern farmer serves time in Leavenworth for growing pot. Migrant farm workers from labor camps sleep in parked cars in Southern California. A comic-book salesman in Cleveland builds a pornography empire and turns the modern porn industry into a mainstream multi-billion dollar business. How in the name of Kurt Vonnegut are these folks related? They are all part of America’s underground economy, documented in Eric Schlosser’s new book, Reefer Madness.In his newest work of investigative journalism, Schlosser, the author of the best-selling Fast Food Nation, explores America’s black market–a shadow economy that accounts for an estimated 10 percent of our country’s Gross Domestic Product–through essays on marijuana, illegal immigrants and adult entertainment. The essays in Reefer Madness stand alone as individual works of investigative reporting, but Reefer Madness is not an anthology. It is a cohesive, multi-layered piece tied together by a narrative thread that gives voice to the winners and losers of the black market."It’s a different kind of book, not purely a collection of essays because the three [topics] share a lot of common themes," says Schlosser. "But it’s also not a book that I sat down and conceived from scratch like Fast Food Nation."Though he pitched this book prior to writing Fast Food Nation, Schlosser says he couldn’t get publishers interested in Reefer Madness until Fast Food Nation spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list."It was terribly difficult to get people to care about pot smokers being locked up and really hard to get people to care about illegal immigrants being exploited," he says. "It took the success of Fast Food Nation to provide the leverage to pay attention to these things. It’s a lot easier to write about Britney Spears if you want attention and publication, but poor people of color is not something that publishers are desperate to publish at the moment."I feel like a lot of what I’m doing is in opposition to the celebrity journalism that has been so popular for the last 20 years," he continues. "I’ve really been trying to do old-fashioned investigative journalism… to take voices and people who don’t have access to the mainstream media and give them the opportunity to be heard. I think these subjects are important, but they’re maybe not getting the kind of coverage they should be."This is especially clear in the book’s second essay, "In the Strawberry Fields," which takes the reader beyond the produce counter and into the fields where migrant farmers are exploited for cheap labor."Once people felt comfortable that I wasn’t an immigration officer, people were really eager to talk," says Schlosser. "There are not reporters banging on the doors of migrant workers every day. These are people who are completely excluded from the mainstream, whose voices really aren’t heard every day."Schlosser’s ability to gain intimate access to his subjects and follow them into the fields accentuates the human component of black-market politics, part of the struggle that is often neglected in discussions of legal battles and illicit profits concerning the underground economy. "In the Strawberry Fields" tackles the intricacies of immigration law, sharecropping and the agricultural industry, but what is most compelling are the portraits of the exploited workers, the tragic victims of America’s black market.Another tragic figure in Reefer Madness is pornography kingpin Reuben Sturman, one of the black market’s winners whose improbable rise and ultimate fall is documented in "An Empire of the Obscene." Sturman was a comic-book salesman who built an adult-entertainment empire that shaped the industry in the ’80s and ’90s and was victorious in numerous freedom-of-speech battles with the federal government. But Sturman was eventually nabbed for tax evasion, making him an ironic figure akin to Al Capone."I found Sturman to be an incredibly charismatic, bright and interesting person," says Schlosser. "When he was battling the obscenity laws, I really felt like he was on the right side. When he was funneling millions of dollars in cash to offshore accounts and threatening people with violence, he went over to the dark side."He’s somebody who I just think got corrupted by power and money. He started out maybe in one place and wound up in a very different place. It’s a very American story in that sense," he continues. "But had the laws been different, you would have seen his face on the cover of Fortune magazine and hailed as this great, brilliant chief executive."Whatever his thoughts on Sturman are now, in Reefer Madness Schlosser presents each of his characters with absolute objectivity. The impartiality and lack of an agenda in Schlosser’s writing allows the reader to experience the subjects as though they are the ones conducting the investigation. Schlosser attributes this to his approach of investigating first, opining later."I have the good fortune on most of the subjects I write about to start from a place of total ignorance," he says. "For me, a lot of the pleasure in the work is educating myself about what’s going on and learning about the subject. It’s toward the end of the research that I have very strong views about what’s going on."This is especially true in the book’s opening essay, "Reefer Madness," which Schlosser says came about through a discussion with an editor at the Atlantic Monthly about whether there was anyone in prison for marijuana."I had smoked pot, but I didn’t begin the investigation from the point of view of trying to persuade people to change the marijuana laws because I didn’t know anything about it," says Schlosser. "Once I’m done with a subject and I’ve come to my conclusions, then I speak out, then I become more of an activist on an issue. I don’t start as an activist and then decide to write something."The result is Reefer Madness, a thoughtful collection of essays that takes the reader into America’s economic underbelly and into the lives of its often colorful participants. In the end, the reader will never look at a doobie, strawberry or porn flick the same way."I think I write things to open people’s eyes and maybe wake them up," says Schlosser. "What’s gratifying to me is if people start the book and then finish it and at the end of the book they’re more aware than when they started it."

Dennis Littrell

Schlosser, Eric. Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market (2003) *****Journalism as social criticism--or vice versaThere are three long, but very well-written essays in this book, portions of which previously appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone and the US News and World Report.The first, the title essay, is on the marijuana business in the United States with a concentration on the "killer weed's" legal history, its economics and how it is cultivated today. Schlosser presents the unembellished facts along with some vivid detail about the growers, the sellers, the law enforcement people, and the politicians. Reading this reinforces my belief that the "new prohibition" (not so new anymore of course) is really a full employment program for the law enforcement establishment endorsed by hypocritical social conservatives (Rush Limbaugh would be a fine example) and Christian fundamentalists, most of whom have little idea about what is going on.The second essay, entitled "In the Strawberry Fields," is about Mexican laborers in virtual peonage in California, the history of this phenomenon, its politics, its economic consequences, and the reality of today's conditions in the field and across the border. The endemic political and economic hypocrisy is illustrated by Scholosser's eye-opening observation on why Mexican migrants are routinely rounded up and sent back to Mexican in a kind of (wink, wink) revolving door policy. When migrants are allowed to settle here and raise their children, the states end up paying for their education and welfare. However by periodically deporting them we benefit from their cheap labor "while effect...[pays:] for the education, health care, and retirement of California's farmworkers." (p. 95)The third essay, "An Empire of the Obscene" is about the pornography business with the focus on porn king Reuben Sturman and his nemesis IRS agent Richard N. Rosfelder, Jr. who finally got Sturman for tax evasion. Although this is the longest essay in the book (longer than the other two combined), I found it the least interesting. That Sturman was able to launder and hide his profits off shore in the same manner as drug dealers (and, for example, Enron) was interesting, as was the way Schlosser chronicles how pornography has become such a huge business that it now accounts for a significant part of the revenues of some Fortune 500 companies.Holding the essays together is Schlosser's idea that the private morality of Americans is inconsistent with our public morality, and that the evidence for this is especially compelling in these three domains of the black market economy. He frames the essays with an introduction called, "The Underground," and a postscript named rather hopefully, "Out of the Underground."Some highlights:"Today approximately three-quarters of all $100 bills circulate outside the United States." As Schlosser notes, this "serves, in essence, as a gigantic interest-free loan" from them to us. (p. 7) (I just hope that George W. Bush's huge deficients don't lessen the world's love for the Yankee dollar and lead them to adopt the Euro instead!)"Import barriers [on marijuana:] drove prices high enough to make domestic production extremely profitable," allowing UCLA professor Mark A. R. Kleiman to note that this is "a rare instance in which protectionism actually worked." Schlosser adds, "Some American marijuana is now worth more per ounce than gold." (p. 36)"The new mandatory minimum laws [for marijuana possession and trafficking:] took...power from the judge and handed it to the prosecutor" who could decide who to prosecute and for what. (p. 45) This results in an uneven application of the law and "de facto sentencing by police and prosecutors." (p. 53) Added to the power the police have because of the forfeiture laws, and one sees that justice in marijuana cases can be anything but. Schlosser cites an example in Ventura County, California in which drug agents had first obtained an appraisal of a $5-million ranch and then raided it for marijuana cultivation only to find nothing growing there. (p. 62)A further point about the forfeiture laws (which I think are unconstitutional since they are seizures without due process) is that informers may get up to one-quarter of the proceeds. Schlosser claims that this has resulted in a "new business: the buying and selling of drug leads. Defendants who hope to avoid a lengthy...sentence...can now secretly buy information from vendors on the black market." (pp. 62-63)Recalling that justice Douglas H. Ginsburg (nominated by Reagan) declined nomination to the US Supreme Court "after confessing that he smoked marijuana as a young man," Schlosser recalls the McCarthy era's "defining political question"--"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?"--with today's question that congressmen and political candidates have to answer: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a pot smoker?" (p. 49) On page 51 Schlosser notes however that "Legislation to impose drug testing on members of Congress has repeatedly died in committee and never reached the floor for a vote." One wonders why.Finally, Schlosser compares America's attitude toward the drug Viagra with its attitude toward marijuana. He recalls Bob Dole's TV commercial for Viagra and then notes that "Elizabeth Dole, now a US senator from North Carolina, apparently doesn't oppose this sort of recreational drug use."Bottom line: social conservatives will deplore this book, and right wing AM shock jocks will rant against it, while most of the rest of the country will ignore it. Too bad. This is a fine piece of work by Schlosser and everyone involved in the project, and an engrossing read. --a review by Dennis Littrell


Eric Schlosser, the grade-a muckraker whose widely read Fast Food Nation catapulted him to fame, returns with Reefer Madness, dedicated to nothing less than examining the underbelly of America's black market. Through three distinct essays (dealing with marijuana, migrant workers, and pornography), he examines the history, underlying economics, policy effects, and future directions of products and services that America can neither seem to abstain from nor openly embrace.Reefer Madness is a difficult book to review because, in practice, it's actually three completely distinct essays, tied together at the front and the back. The essays have markedly different style and tone, making a comprehensive review challenging. So, I will take the easier route: briefly reviewing each section. The book's overall score is the average, weighted to how long each essay is.Reefer Madness: 74/100Schlosser's first foray into the world of the underground economy deals with the vast disparity between the harshness of marijuana prohibition and its apparent popularity. Heavy on both the legal history and status quo, Schlosser's peerless research shines, giving an unvarnished account of how pot is grown, distributed, prosecuted, and proselytized. He interviews people on both the smoking and the busting ends of the spectrum, and makes a convincing case that pot is, by income, the most profitable cash crop in the country, above corn (a position advocated by some long-time federal investigators, among others).His final conclusions are that (a) the chemical and psychological dangers of marijuana are likely far lower than those of alcohol and nicotine, (b) proper research into marijuana's properties is being systematically discouraged to keep it classifies as being higher-risk than cocaine or PCP, (c) draconian enforcement has led to America's staggering incarceration rate (which has unduly criminalized that inmate population and destroyed both lives and families), and (d) that a system of taxation and regulation would more effectively solve America's pot-related problems than the utter failure that is the War on Drugs. He makes a solid (if somewhat dry) case for these points, backed up by considerable evidence.In The Strawberry Fields: 62/100The weakest essay of the three, Schlosser's examination of the hardships of Mexican strawberry pickers in southern California suffers from an all-too-common affliction in nonfiction: irrelevance. The investigative punch of this section is largely weakened by immigration having, since the book's publication, become the new "hot" issue for American conservatives, which has led many of Schlosser's assertions to become widely known. To his credit, his treatment of the issue does a fair job of both humanizing migrants and of explaining the pressures on growers to use migrants, giving the reasons for poor labor conditions without demonizing or forgiving unnecessarily. The historical angle of the story is also a welcome addition, one rarely heard in today's rhetorical war. Still, the essay is too short and isn't an eye-opener. Schlosser could have done much better.An Empire Of The Obscene: 86/100Despite the book's title, it is the third section that is both the longest and most engaging of the three. Schlosser brilliantly weds a comprehensive examination of porn's move from underground to mainstream with the legacy of an almost unknown figure who, by all accounts, essentially controlled pornography distribution for over 30 years: Reuben Sturman. Schlosser's high-density, high-quality research alone would provide much the same interesting tone as in the first essay, but combined with the rise and fall of Reuben Sturman it becomes electric and intensely personal.Despite its lengthy exposition and its mere 103-page length, the story of Reuben Sturman could easily be an HBO TV series on par with the best serial television ever produced. The story is so incredible it can be hard to believe, with Sturman and his rival Richard Rosfelder (of the IRS) spending decades locking horns with great victories and defeats. The story has a femme fatal, a prison break, money laundering of the highest caliber, the Mob, and explosions. From his first run-in with the law in 1963 to his eventual death in 1997, Sturman waged a personal war on the U.S. government, and it's fascinating stuff.Perhaps Schlosser's strength in this section stems from his detachment to its outcome. Unlike the first two essays, which have a prescriptive tone, hard-core porn is essentially a done deal in America. While a "war on porn" has been pushed by the Bush administration, a conflict Schlosser anticipates but had not yet had a chance to see emerge, he (rightly) treats it as a futile battle: porn and prudes locked horns for decades, and porn won. As a result, Schlosser spends very little time telling us how things ought to be and can focus on telling us how it was.Final OverviewThroughout, Schlosser's research is staggering. The endnotes and bibliography make up over 20% of the book, and Schlosser cites just about every fact he asserts, a sadly waning practice in non-fiction. This helps to make his more eye-popping assertions even more striking. It's clear throughout that he isn't making any of this stuff up. Truth is stranger than fiction, and Schlosser is determined to uncover the truths about areas of American living and business that many people would rather not examine at all (in fiction or otherwise). Though it lacks the powerful, life-changing punch of Fast Food Nation, this is nevertheless an excellent book that every adult American should read.


Like others who have read Fast Food Nation, I picked this up with great hope. Like others who have read this book, I was sorely disappointed.It is what it is: a gussied up textbook version of marijuana, porn, and migrant labor statistics that feels as sterile as a World Book encyclopedia. I would have been completely disinterested if the book was not peppered with personal accounts. Still, in pages where these stories were absent, reading became unbearable, as if I was in high school again and been given a horrid research assignment. I grit my teeth and read on, but at the end I felt really guilty; I could have spent my time reading something else worthwhile about te same subject matter.The only redeeming points about this book is the migrant labor section, especially during this immigration crisis the United States is enduring. Perhaps if all were made to read this section, along with researching other informative texts, instead of carrying uninformed and rather ignorant opinions based on no facts at all, we would be much farther along in the immigration issue than we currently are.


** spoiler alert ** In Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser thoroughly examines the vast underground economy in the United States. The book is made up of three essays discussing marijuana in the black market, illegal immigration/cheap labor, and the porn industry. Throughout his essay on marijuana, I like how Schlosser doesn’t just state statistics, but actually goes into detail on the topic. He explains overly-harsh penalties for marijuana dealers, growers, and smokers with real life facts and examples. This is shown when he tells the story of a man named Mark Young. Young lived in Indiana where the average sentence of a convicted rape crime is eight years. He became the middleman in a marijuana grow operation, introducing two growers to a place to grow and buyers. The men, Claude Atkinson and Ernest Montgomery, began their grow operation and gave Young $100 for every pound they sold. Eventually they got caught through a federal raid of one of their houses and found Young’s name in a briefcase. Young couldn’t talk as he had no information that the other men wouldn’t provide, and he received life in prison without parole for conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana in a quantity in excess of 1,000 plants. This part of the book was the most interesting to me because of the actual examples and the seriousness. He included facts such as 3 million Americans smoke marijuana on a daily basis, which really kept the 64 pages enjoyable. I liked Schlosser’s point of view on the issue, although he didn’t include many negatives of marijuana smoking or decriminalization.The second essay in Reefer Madness was labeled “In the Strawberry Fields.” Although the shortest part of the book, I also found it to be the most boring. Illegal Immigration isn’t something that I am interested in and enthusiastic about but I gave the essay a chance. Schlosser takes a different view in this essay, going after the bosses who hire illegal immigrants and the system of illegal immigration itself, not the government as in his other essays. It basically talks about immigrants from Mexico and other bordering countries working for under our minimum wage with nothing new brought to the table, reiterating information that is widely already known and uninteresting.The last essay in Reefer Madness is titled “An Empire of the Obscene.” This essay was definitely very interesting all the way through although it was the longest. It focused around a man by the name of Rueben Sturman, who was a huge figure in the porn industry up until the 90’s. It goes through his business, how he kept in the shadows. He hired Canadians to run his stores and smaller businesses, taking some of the profits from the peep shows and booths that he placed throughout the United States. He became a multi-millionaire through the porn industry, and evaded his taxes through offshore and foreign bank accounts under pseudonyms. Eventually it caught up to him and, after many court cases, he decided to ease out of the business, shredding documents and handing over companies to trusted friends and business partners. Schlosser throws in many interesting facts in this section such as the fact that the VHS became popular through porn because when it first came out no movie producers were using them.Overall, I liked this book. It got a little boring through some parts as essays aren’t my favorite things to read, but this book was filled with a lot of information that got me to look further into information that I found interesting and it is definitely a must read if this is your type of book.


It's hard to argue with any part of Schlosser's book. He does not, for the most part, espouse any particular agenda (though it's obvious where his sympathies lie); he merely marshals facts - lots of facts, backed up with copious though unobtrusive notes - and observes the effects of current U.S. policy on three specific areas of the underground economy that makes up such a huge, though ill-documented, portion of our Gross Domestic Product: marijuana cultivation, undocumented immigrant workers in California, and pornography.Hint: current policy isn't working very well, whether you believe the goal is to suppress the activity entirely or to minimize harm from it.As is usual with Schlosser's work, Reefer Madness is meticulously researched and brimming with specific numbers, facts and citations (as much as can be, given that the participants in these fields are breaking the law, and hence are often reluctant to provide too many details to any above-ground agency). The end notes and bibliography are not to be missed, either - and they do in fact, along with the acknowledgements and index, make up a good third of the book.This is an important book. It may not convert you to Schlosser's way of thinking, but it should shake the foundations of your worldview a bit.

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