by David Downs
Funny, naughty, and hyper-contemporary, hard-boiled summer paperback Baked follows Miro, breeder of hit marijuana strain Elephant Crush, as he wins the High Times Cannabis Cup and ends up shot in a gangland dispensary dispute. Los Angeles novelist Mark Haskell Smith releases Baked — his fourth book — this fall on the Black Cat imprint of Grove/Atlantic press. Below, the 53-year-old screenwriter and professor continues his talk with Legalization Nation about the wild world of million-dollar marijuana strains, literary research in Amsterdam, notorious gangbangers, and Prop 19. [Edited for space and clarity. Pt. 5 of 5]
Legalization Nation: What's your thoughts on Prop 19's chances, and will you vote for it?
Mark Haskell Smith: Oh, I'll totally vote for it. Absolutely. The thing is the Prop 19 guys have been very organized in Northern California and just last week I went to the first meeting they had down here. There was a lot of people, 100, in this little room and the organizer I guess his name is Richard Lee, they apologized and said ,'We've 'been really behind trying to get organized down here, but we're here.”
I hope it passes. Obviously adults ought to be able to consume a nontoxic plant in the privacy of their own home without fear of going to jail. I think most people I know are supportive of it. Even if it doesn't pass — and I think it will — it's going to be close. It's going to make the state realize we have to decriminalize this thing. If you don't want to have pot stores for over 21s, I understand that, but there are liquor stores and tobacco stores and we can't keep putting all these people in jail and arresting them. If you're a teenager and get arrested then you can't get financial aid when you go to college — it's got to change.
Legalization Nation: It was cool to read some southern dispensary owners in your book be against legalization, because that sentiment is so common.
Mark Haskell Smith: I hear some dispensaries are against Prop 19, of course they are. They have a monopoly. If I'm the only guy who can sell something because I've got all the licenses, why would I want it where anyone could sell it? I think it's very shortsighted. If you look at the guys who run Berkeley Patients Group, they're doing some science work so they can quantify the various attributes of the cannabis they sell so they can present it for FDA approval when it is legal.
Legalization Nation: Did you have to deliberately avoid being preachy in your novel?
Mark Haskell Smith: I think any author has this where whatever your true feelings about something are, it comes through in your characters, and you might show both sides of the coin but that's all just about the characters. I really try to not have any overt political grandstanding and I try to be subtle.
Sometimes it's not even conscious. It just comes out of the character. For example, in the book the bad guy drinks Fiji water, there's nothing wrong with that water except when you look at how much it costs to ship it and all the environmental impacts of drinking "pure mineral water." A conscious person shouldn't drink it. So then I have bad guy drinking it and thinking about it.
At least he's self-aware enough to be like, 'I know it's uncool and my friends tell me not to, but fuck it, I like it.”