Connoisseurship is hip right now. Not 100 feet from my apartment, there’s a coffee shop whose menu reads like a map — Colombia, Honduras, Rwanda — and every few months, I get together with some friends to taste different whiskeys (we’re not as insufferable as we sound). Hell, there are at least five restaurants I can think of in Los Angeles that serve artisanal sausages. For whatever reason – maybe it’s an extension of the hipster desire for obscurity and authenticity – but knowing what the good stuff is and where to get it has never been a bigger deal.
Perhaps that’s why Mark Haskell Smith’s Heart of Dankness so resonated with me. Smith ventures to Amsterdam to cover the Cannabis Cup, the world’s premiere marijuana expo, trade show, and competition. When sampling a particularly potent strain called John Sinclair (named for the manager of the proto-punk band MC5), Smith experiences a moment of epiphany, the words floating above his head in cartoon font — “This shit is dank.” And so begins a quest to get to the root of what, exactly, “dank” is.
I like my nonfiction to be both entertaining and edifying, and Dankness delivers both. Smith dives deep into the world of high-end cannabis, from the cobblestone streets of Amsterdam to the near-ubiquitous and semi-legal medical marijuana dispensaries of Los Angeles and Oakland to the clandestine grow sites of the Mexican Cartel. His experience as a novelist serves him well, as he brings to life the many growers, vaporists, budtenders, breeders, and activists who make up the cannabis industry. We learn about the different effects of sativa and indica, the two strands of pot that each produce very different highs. Indica, with its sledge-hammer heaviness, dominates the California market at the moment, while the light, cerebral high of sativa permeates the Dutch coffeeshop scene. We learn, too, about the landrace strains of marijuana that seed companies keep in vaults. These genetically pure strains are “the primary colors” of the seed business, combined to make endless new variations of weed, each with a slightly different flavor and feel. Smith is so adept at describing the strains that they almost become characters themselves, albeit characters with really great names like Super Lemon Haze, Kosher Kush, and Trainwreck.
If you want to know how the contemporary cannabis industry operates, Heart of Dankness is the book for you. But beyond that, Dankness is a great book for anyone with an inclination towards connoisseurship, because dankness, it seems, is at least in part about circumstances. The right thing at the right time in the right place with the right people. A perfectly cooked egg might be considered dank if you ate at precisely the right time and place. Or an ice cold glass of your favorite beer at the end of the longest, hottest day of the year. Quality is a part of it, to be sure, but you can’t underestimate the situational component. This, ultimately, is why the book holds great appeal beyond the world of marijuana aficionados. Take it from a guy who hates reggae: I highly recommend picking up Heart of Dankness, whether you have a doctor’s recommendation or not.