Mark Haskell Smith: A Cult Classic Icon

In literature, consider the cult following for authors like Vonnegut, Tolkien, and Stephen King, and in the creative non-fiction genre, now Mark Haskell Smith, his book The Heart of Dankness of the page-turning popular claim, released in 2012 to tremendous fanfare from literary critics, weed smokers, and those familiar with Haskell Smith’s super cool cat novels.

He’s the perfect author to document a marijuana exploration. In the 70s, his band, The Beakers, opened for the likes of XTC and Gang of Four. Haskell Smith is also a member to the vaunted Hollywood Writers Guild for his screenplay, Playing God, starring Angelina Jolie.

That’s the type of personality needed to penetrate the intricate world of marijuana; his reporter-like instincts combined with a natural ability for discreteness that only the coolest person in the room portrays.

The author travels to Amsterdam to visit the Cannabis Cup, the Academy Awards for marijuana buffs, with such award categories as Best Overall Strand, Best Indica, and Best Sativa. The web describes an indica as a sinking high, whereas a sativa offers an energetic experience. Then, there are hybrids of the two.

He returns to Los Angeles enlightened, and sets out to obtain a State of California Medical Marijuana recommendation. Throughout the book, he’s investigating the ephemeralfic value of dankness.

He immerses himself in growth periods, soiling, pruning, seeding and other botanical tricks necessary to producing marijuana. Although technically legal to grow a restricted number of plants in California, marijuana is illegal federally and growers frequently fear prosecution.

There’s also a group in California trying to develop a system that documents the best marijuana strand and dosage to alleviate particular medical symptoms; perhaps a fruit flavored sativa to help nausea caused by chemotherapy or a brisk indica to address anxiety.

He visits the haunts in Amsterdam, Toronto, and Northern California; in some cases, literal coffee shops featuring a full menu of marijuana. He samples dozens of strands, depicting the details like a judge on Chopped. His command of the politics behind marijuana is engaging and fresh.

One must be open to the legalization of marijuana to appreciate Haskell Smith’s book. As a selective audience often defines a cult classic, his book has lent him street credit toward liberals and libertarians and a growing demographic of pro-medical marijuana independents. This books is more than a cult classic, but the best reference point to understanding marijuana.


Silas Tsang is a 2008 graduate of the MFA program at the University of Nebraska. His work is featured in such journals as Freshwater Magazine and the Cimarron Review.