By Anna Lambias
In his 35-plus years as an expert horticulturist and author, Ed Rosenthal has written or edited more than a dozen best-selling books about cannabis cultivation and social policy, including The Best of Ask Ed, Marijuana Grower’s Handbook, Marijuana Garden Saver, Closet Cultivator and The Big Book of Buds series. The Big Book series cumulatively sold more than 2 million copies. He has also served as an expert witness about marijuana sentencing laws, and worked as a consultant to hemp and marijuana growers.
On January 21, 2003, the day Rosenthal went on trial in federal court in San Francisco for growing medical marijuana, the front page of the New York Times called him “the pothead’s answer to Ann Landers, Judge Judy, Martha Stewart and the Burpee Garden Wizard all in one.”
Although he was convicted—and later reconvicted after his successful appeal— the judicial circus only served to make him famous. He now owns the Quick Trading Co., a Piedmont publishing house, with his wife, Jane Klein, and continues to both educate growers and advocate for others, like Oklahoma drug-war victim Will Foster.
Here Rosenthal expounds on both the advances achieved by the 420 movement in reforming marijuana laws, and the challenges the movement still faces:
Question: What are your thoughts on the proliferation of medical-marijuana collectives and dispensaries in California and other states? Is it a positive sign or overwhelming the movement?
Answer: Well, I think it’s really good. The more competition there is, the better the quality of the product and the cheaper the price, which is especially important for patients who have a limited income. The market works for marijuana the way it works for everything else. At some point, if there are too many dispensaries, some of them aren’t going to survive. But as long as the market is supportive, I don’t see why the city should restrict them. Medical marijuana should be as easy for patients to get as it is for them to get other prescription medicines.
Q: Care to weigh in on the recent raids on collectives in San Diego?
A: I think the county is eventually going to be found in criminal contempt of California law. There will be civil suits and somebody will win these suits, and it’s going to be millions of dollars and the county is going to be responsible for it. They’re only insured up to a point, so eventually they won’t be able to get insurance and they’ll go bankrupt. Maybe that’s what it takes. As long as you have this sheriff doing what he’s doing, this district attorney doing what [she’s] doing, your kids might not have schools. That’s one level. On another, more basic level, I know someone down there who sold three eighths to a “narc” who was posing as a patient and now they want to give the person life for it. It’s unconscionable! People all over California are suffering and [State Atty. Gen.] Jerry Brown could stop it with one word: stop.
Q: How about Obama? Is he reneging on his promise to put a stop to the federal raids?
A: Hmm . . . well, personally, I’m not going to blame him, but I think the people who thought that he’d be the solution to all their problems are going to be sorely disappointed. He was very good in law school, but in terms of the actual day-to-day running of a country, he might not be the best at making executive decisions. He’s not doing anything extraordinary. Regardless, I don’t see us getting change directly from politicians, but, rather, through public initiatives. I think the voters are much more progressive than the people who represent them.
Q: What do you think about the three marijuana initiative drives currently going on in California? Do you think they will be successful?
A: I haven’t read them all, actually, so I don’t want to comment specifically. But, in general, I think they’re going to have a hard time being successful because they’re all depending on volunteer efforts. Even Proposition 215 was floundering when it was depending solely on volunteers. The only county that managed to function independently of getting funding from really rich hippies was Alameda County. We were second in signature gathering and we did it all on local money, but all the others depended on outside money.
Q: Do you think the cannabis industry in California is operating to the best of its ability?
A: I’m not in the industry in terms of the commercial thing, so the people I deal with happen to be more on the political or serving-the-patient side. I can say that they’re really committed to getting the best possible medicine to the patients. And then, just speaking from a Northern California standpoint, you have this dispensary called Harborside [Health Center] here [in Oakland]. They’re working with a testing service to test product for THC content and molds and other stuff like that. So even though the state is falling down on protecting the consumer in terms of regulating quality and measurements, I think there are people who are trying to do a good job.
Q: Is enough being done within the industry to ensure low-income patients are getting their medicine?
A: Many clubs do provide medicine first at a low price, and then to some patients at no price at all. A lot of people are being served in a positive way that way, but I would like to see it organized. Right now, the state does not pay for people’s medical marijuana, and I think they should. And you know how they say that collectives should only be nonprofit? I think that’s such a great idea—it’s so good that we should extend it to all pharmacies and all medicine and have a one-payer system.
Q: In your view, is greed becoming a problem with the industry?
A: The question of “greed” is loaded. To me, greed is when somebody says “How can I maximize my profit while providing the least amount of service or goods to society?” So, yes, of course there will be some greedy people in the marijuana industry. But there are also very compassionate people. And perhaps a “greedy” person will say, “I’m going to beat everybody else’s price down and make money in volume.” So maybe some greed will do some good in some cases.
Q: What are you doing these days?
A: For the past six months I’ve been working on a new edition of the Marijuana Grower’s Handbook, which I originally published 25 years ago. But it’s only the same in title. I’ve been working with manufacturers in many gardens and using all the latest research on multiple levels. I haven’t met the deadline, but it’s not writer’s block. There’s just so much information.
Q: Do you still have any legal problems with the government?
A: No. Everything kind of worked in reverse. The federal government didn’t get what they wanted from [the trial]. Instead, they did in six weeks what I couldn’t do in a lifetime—they made me respectable, made me a hero. Before the trial, I would never have been in a magazine like this! But I am a triple felon so that’s a negative repercussion [laughs]. Right now my attorney is deciding whether to appeal.