Written and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés

(Magic Propaganda Mill)

Since its very seed, this children's book about marijuana (yes, you read correctly) was meant to spark discussion – between parents and children and between government and citizens. And it successfully accomplishes that, in spades: "An outrage," says Entertainment Weekly. "A delightful book … a glimpse of what enlightened drug education could be," says Dr. Andrew Weil.

The polarized responses all the more reinforce the absence of simple, honest marijuana education. There are not many children's books about marijuana sitting on the shelves – not in this country, anyway. Ricardo Cortés, 31, says there's a Canadian kiddie book on the subject, but it's more medicinal in focus. What a strange and telling taboo the subject of marijuana has become in the post-DARE vacuum.

And how clever of Cortés, a graphic artist/teacher/skateboard entrepreneur, to break the lock with his gentle, juvenile piece of psychedelically illustrated activism. The upside: It's Just a Plant is suitably simple for all ages, however uninformed or biased. The downside: It's got a New Agey vibe that's clichéd and bound to bring on giggles.

It's Just a Plant is about a young girl from a free-spirited tofu-and-sprouts kind of family who smells something funny coming from her parents' room. Her inquiry is met with a promise for an educational outing the next day, Halloween, to talk about it. Dressed in costumes – little Jackie as a samurai, her mom a bandleader – they cycle around their neighborhood, which is a fantastic cross between New York City and Omaha, Neb.

First stop is a farmer who grows the weed, among many other fruits, vegetables and herbs, but doesn't smoke it. There, Jackie touches a live plant, while her mom speaks matter-of-factly about its intoxicating effects.

Lesson No. 2 takes place in the office of friendly Dr. Eden, who shares her medical knowledge of marijuana and clearly states: "Marijuana is for adults who can use it responsibly. … I think you can understand that there are some experiences that are okay for an adult, but definitely not for children."

Representing reality, the next encounter is on the streets when Jackie smells that smell emanating from a group of men hanging out. The homies explain that what they're killing time with can be called "ganja," "La La," "cannabis sativa," "reefer, muggles, cheeba cheeba, sinsemilla, bam bam, Mary Jane, the Healing of the Nations and sweet leaf. And … Lamb's Bread, pot, weed, trees, herb."

Too bad the cops bust 'em after this litany of euphemisms, but after the scuffle, one officer voices his personal feelings about the goodness of weed. His reminiscence oddly invokes a desire to go back to the days when hemp was legal, back when his "grandmother once ran a café where she would read all day, drink tea with toast, and sell cakes made of her homegrown grass." Aah, but that was before a "small but powerful group decided to make a law against marijuana," the cop winds down, letting the fellows off the hook with only a warning. (Good cop!)

Not missing a beat, Mom lets it rip: "The government can make a mistake when they make a law. ... Thankfully, we live in a country where we have the right to change that law if it doesn't work. We might change a law by writing petitions and voting."

"This book definitely takes on an issue: marijuana and prohibition," says Cortés. "Marijuana has been so mythologized and changed around that it almost takes talking like a child to someone to make them understand."

So giggle all you want at the Sgt. Pepper's getups and the stereotypic liberal goofiness – it's still a way to break the ice.


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