High on Books: Shelly Smith's "Reads & Weeds" podcast cultivates the best sentences and strains


Shelly Smith

Photo by Moni Jones/Her & HIm Studio.

A love of the written word, cultivated cannabis, and the buzziest broadcast medium inspired Ypsilanti-based comedian Shelly Smith to start the podcast Reads & Weeds.

Smith had appeared on other comedians’ podcasts as a guest but, she says, “I wanted to do more than sit around and talk -- I wanted to do something more intentional. Some friends talked about doing a book club and it dawned on me that a podcast, revolving around cannabis and books, was the perfect cross-section of my interests.”

The upbeat, irreverent Reads & Weeds is a delightful listen. There is fun banter about topics ranging from Ryan Seacrest to self-publishing books to women in prison to back tattoos. The show features a variety of co-hosts plus fellow readers who stop by, which makes for a riotous atmosphere. Smith’s childhood friend, Kris Walton, handles the technical aspect of the show in addition to occasionally co-hosting. Walton joined Smith on an October episode discussing Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark, which joined an impressive list of eclectic books that have been discussed on the podcast. 

“One of the books we read, Smoke Signals, is all about the socio-political history of cannabis,” Smith says. But all the reads aren't about weed. Other books include My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi, and The Illusion of Money by Kyle Cease.

When not podcasting about weed (and reads), Smith is also the membership director for the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association and talks passionately about the issue of legalization and what comes next.

“We are in the middle of a massive journey right now," she says. "On one hand, it is a thrilling time for us as we less of a stigma around the use, people are growing plants, having their own businesses and not getting arrested for it, but now we are battling overregulation and the fact we still have too many people in prison for something that is now legal.”

Along with discussing the books, Smith and her guests discuss hot topics around the legalization of cannabis, such as expungement and the licensing of dispensaries. 

“Expungement bills are starting to go through state governments,” Smith says. “Some groups want everything [cannabis related] expunged, others are more cautious, and the fact is that if you have a felony on your record, in most cases you cannot own your own cannabis-related business.”

Currently, if one is trying to get a license to sell or grow cannabis, “the background check is run on everyone who is involved -- basically a legal and financial strip search for everyone who will be on that license," Smith says. "It is an issue of both criminal justice and bureaucracy. ... I’m hoping that in the next couple of years, we get a little smarter and logical [in Michigan], and gear efforts toward decriminalization and fair practices as far as bank loans and support, hiring practices, and so on. We still have a lot of work to do.”

New episodes of Reads & Weeds are released every other Wednesday with plans to increase to a weekly basis. For further listening enjoyment, Smith creates a Spotify playlist to go along with each book.

In the future, Smith hopes to have on poets to share their work. She also plans to do on-location shows "where new people can join in, in support of an event or of each other. ... I'm also working on a collaboration with the Michigan Psychedelic Society to do a live recording with them to discuss Joseph Tafur’s Fellowship of the River,” a book the delves into shamanism, spiritual awakenings, and the future of alternative medicines including ayahuasca, an Amazonian medicine that brings about visions and insights.  

Yet no matter how busy Smith is with these various jobs and projects, she says she’s always reading a book, favoring no particular genre. “I can’t imagine a week going by without me wanting to read a book -- as long as it's beautifully written, something I can learn from, I'll be into it."

Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cat.

Visit readsandweeds.com for more info and to subscribe to "Reads and Weeds."