Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America | Wilson Center
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Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America

Washington, DC, joins ten states in having legalized recreational marijuana use for adults and 30 states in having legalized medical marijuana. It's a mistake, though, to assume marijuana's continued legality is certain. We were in a similar position 40 years ago, when a dozen states decriminalized the drug, only to have those laws reversed during the "Just Say No" 1980s. A new anti-marijuana counterrevolution is currently forming, and today's liberalized drug policies are anything but secure. Dr. Emily Dufton, a scholar of the history of marijuana laws, will describe the long, strange trip such laws have taken, and the battles that thousands of grass-roots activists have waged for and against the drug. She'll talk about what the history of such activism means for activists today, and what the future holds. 

Emily Dufton received her PhD in American Studies from George Washington University. She is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America (Basic Books, 2017), which traces the effects of grassroots activism on 50 years of shifting state and federal cannabis laws. She is a writer, historian, adjunct professor, and co-owner of Takoma Writers, LLC, a speechwriting and ghostwriting workshop for officials in Washington, DC, and beyond. She highly recommends the following books on marijuana history in the United States: Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000 by Martin Torgoff (Simon & Schuster, 2004), High in America: The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana by Patrick Anderson (The Viking Press, 1981), and Craft Weed: Family Farming and the Future of the Marijuana Industry by Ryan Stoa (MIT Press, 2018). 

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.



  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center
  • Eric Arnesen

    Professor of History, The George Washington University