‘The New Chardonnay’: How cannabis went from hippie to haute – SF Chronicle Datebook

Heather Cabot, co-author of “Geek Girl Rising,” has a new book out about the cannabis industry. Photo: Tyler Sizemore, Hearst Connecticut Media

Despite the cluster of buds on the cover, despite the “legalization timeline,” despite the pages author Heather Cabot spends talking to people about pot, marijuana and cannabis, it’s easy to forget “The New Chardonnay” is a book about weed.

Cabot, former reporter for ABC, later Yahoo! editor and co-author of “Geek Girl Rising” (2017), admits that she is “the most unlikely person in the world to write a book about marijuana.” She aligns herself more with the canna-curious “graying grandmas to weekend warriors to Chardonnay moms” who want to know more about Gwyneth Paltrow-endorsed cannabis products.

In her newest book, subtitled “The Unlikely Story of How Marijuana Went Mainstream,” Cabot explores how cannabis went from the “devil’s lettuce” of her youth to a multibillion-dollar industry.

Her journalism stands out in condensing years of research, extensive “shoe-leather reporting” and legislation into a cohesive, informative and decidedly entertaining narrative. The book weaves the stories of a handful of industry titans through the tribulations of making a Schedule I substance into a viable and socially acceptable business. The distinction is clear from the introduction between “stoners, burnouts, hippies and deadbeats in tie-dye” and the “Chardonnay moms” who love yoga and Whole Foods but still want to feel a little rebellious, a little high. Cabot hopes to reach others like herself of the “Just Say No” era who want to shed their preconceptions and understand how a vape pen could replace their nightcap.

The title, “The New Chardonnay,” may raise an eyebrow, but the name is apt given the narrative Cabot is setting up. For people who don’t live in states like California or Washington where cannabis culture is so prevalent, this book aims to be their gateway to a non-gateway drug. The timeline largely stays within the last decade, focusing on three major markets: the medical marijuana program in Arizona, Colorado’s transition to recreational sales, and the national strides being made by our Canadian neighbors.

The “cast of characters” are definitely characters, at times seeming too fantastical to be real: a Jersey Shore, Wolf-of-Wall-Street mom who may have crossed paths with a mafioso, a hip-hop-loving Korean American business whiz who can find weed for Snoop Dogg on (probably) every continent, a gay self-taught chef who left his conservative Jewish faith to perfect infusing good food with undetectable cannabis. And that’s just the first 50 pages.

Between the dramatic twists, there are moments of education. Readers will get the basics on cannabis botany, research on its effects and some historical context acknowledging early medical marijuana activists like San Francisco’s own Dennis Peron. There’s plenty to learn even for veterans of the industry; just don’t expect to see a lot of the Bay Area. Cabot wasn’t able to include the impact the pandemic has had on the people and companies she covered, but she’s optimistic.

“My biggest takeaway from all of this is we’re very much in the first inning,” she said via phone from her home in New York. “Some people would say (the pandemic) advanced the cause because so many states deemed it essential. It made them think twice what the role of these businesses are.”

“The New Chardonnay: The Unlikely Story of How Marijuana Went Mainstream”
By Heather Cabot
(Currency; 320 pages; $28)

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