Ed Rosenthal: marijuana’s question and answer man

Ed Rosenthal ? cannabis cultivation expert, book publisher and writer/photographer who has answered thousands of gardening questions in 20 years of his famous Ask Ed column for High Times magazine ? is now officially affiliated with Cannabis Culture.
International answer man

Ed Rosenthal is 55 years old; his Ask Ed column, published in High Times from August 1983 until March 2000, tutored generations of herb growers.

Rosenthal enjoys being marijuana’s answer man. He published his first grow book, Indoor-Outdoor Marijuana Growers’ Guide, in 1974. In 1978, he co-authored another popular grow book, Marijuana Growers’ Guide, with Mel Frank. These books have sold at least a million copies. Since then, he’s authored, edited or published dozens of books on marijuana, other controlled substances, and drug law.

Before Rosenthal’s books, many of today’s well-known pot-growing techiques were a mystery to neophyte growers. Ed outlined the basics of light cycles, sexing, harvesting and curing for a continent of fledgling cannabis cultivators.

“I don’t call myself an expert,” he explains. “I’m a student. I ask a lot of questions. I pay attention to what works. I keep myself current with the latest techniques. I listen to what readers tell me. There’s a lot of good ways to grow marijuana.”

Several years ago, Carleton Turner, who later became President Ronald Reagan’s drug policy advisor, invited Rosenthal to work as a consultant for the US government’s very own pot farm at the University of Mississippi Marijuana Research Project.

“Carleton Turner was a fellow researcher,” Rosenthal recalls. “Although he worked for the other side and had political views that differed from mine, we had a collegial relationship and found the exchange to our mutual benefit.

“I even visited him at his White House office, and it was a good meeting. I used the occasion to verbally petition the government for a redress of grievances. He taped that portion of the meeting, and played my complaints to other members of the government. Turner now works outside the marijuana research industry and does not keep up his relations much with his former fellow researchers. I haven’t spoken with him in years.”

Mississippi isn’t the only place Rosenthal has been invited to ? he’s been a consultant for hemp and marijuana growers in France, Germany, Switzerland, India, Morocco, Nepal, England, Canada, Australia, and Holland.

As an expert defense witness in dozens of marijuana trials, Rosenthal uses crop yield estimates from America’s federal pot farm to challenge yield overestimates by prosecutors and police. He sees it as his obligation to make sure that government officials and juries make decisions in marijuana cases based on horticultural realities, such as the difference in yield, potency and monetary value between clones, female plants and male plants.

When he isn’t testifying in court, Rosenthal and his wife Jane run Quick Trading Company and Quick American Archives, thriving businesses offering a variety of eclectic, practical and legendary titles covering everything from joint rolling to the use of chemical Ecstasy. Rosenthal even published a book on making cannabis beer.

“We call it Hi-Brew,” Rosenthal chuckles. “It provides a unique buzz you can’t get from any other beer.”

Cannabis aficionados worldwide owe much of their expertise to Rosenthal, but his books have ancillary benefits, as I found out when a young man approached me at a community forum and asked if I could ask Ed to autograph a book.

“Ed’s book was the first one I ever read,” the college student said.

“You mean the first pot book you ever read?” I asked.

“No, the first book I ever read,” the kid replied. “I hated reading. I was flunking out of high school, but I wanted to grow killer dank. So I got his grow book and forced myself to read it. It was fun. I did my closet garden, and his instructions were easy. So I kept buying his books, and I even started reading my school textbooks. I wouldn’t be in college today if it wasn’t for Ed!”

Hidden history

Rosenthal is a deliberate enigma. After 30 years in the pot bizness, watching people get busted, ripped off and destroyed by snitches and gossip, he is unwilling to talk about his family, home life, or favorite pot varieties. But it’s widely acknowledged that Rosenthal was an integral member of the band of anarchists, Yippies, hip capitalists, herb lovers, and tormented geniuses who shaped and profited from the 1970’s youth movement.

Ed was there, along with Dana Beal, Keith Stroup, Tom For?ade, High Times lawyer Michael Kennedy, Michael Aldrich, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, and other Movement founders, when marijuana politics and psychedelic culture were popularized in art, journalism and activism 30 years ago.

For?ade, Stroup, Hunter Thompson and other pot-people partied with top officials from President Carter’s administration, but Rosenthal avoided parties and overt politics, focusing instead on horticulture and on literary projects that spread news about cannabis.

“I helped [High Times founder] Tom For?ade conceive and start High Times,” he told me. “It came out of our involvement with YIP, the Youth International Party, otherwise known as ‘the Yippies.’ We were in a youth culture that was very different from today. A majority of young people were trying to make the world a better place. We were trying to stop the Vietnam War, help the environment, legalize marijuana, and increase civil rights and social justice on all levels,” Rosenthal said.

Yippie philosophy and tactics were influenced by leftist political theorists, by megadoses of illegal drugs, and by books like Agents of Chaos, which outlined what Rosenthal describes as a “creative anarchy” that used street theater, media, and antic subversion, exemplified by For?ade’s habit of throwing pies in the faces of offensive government officials.

“Our belief was that America had been taken over by a coup, most notably tied to the Kennedy and King assassinations,” Rosenthal explained. “We saw the military-industrial complex, the CIA, corporations, the covert owners pulling the strings, and we felt America had been taken over by a rogue government. We were obligated to fight it.”

Rosenthal recalls that For?ade started planning High Times in 1970.

“I was part of the High Times family,” Rosenthal says. “By 1972, we’d outlined the first 100 articles. But a provocateur made it difficult for me to stay involved, so I had limited participation in the project from 1973 until about 1982, when I approached the magazine and asked if they wanted a gardening column, and a monthly photo essay feature that showed the garden and the bud of the month. My suggestions were enthusiastically received. I started answering grow questions, editing, writing and photographing articles, and doing other features for them. That was my job until this year.”

Missing Tom

The official High Times mythology says that For?ade, in the throes of severe depression magnified by incessant use of chemical drugs, shot himself to death on November 17, 1978.

“Tom’s death was tragic, but not unexpected,” Rosenthal said. “He was manic depressive; that made him very difficult to work with. He was a genius, but he was so up and down, often mean, and seriously troubled. If you had a relationship with him, then at one time or another he had blown up at you and really put the hurt on you. You just had to understand that it wasn’t about you, it was Tom.”

Rosenthal recalls the death with sadness; he’s equally sad about what happened to For?ade’s business and political enterprises after his death.

Rosenthal believes For?ade’s legacy has been stolen, and he has embarked on a controversial crusade to rescue High Times, NORML and the pot movement itself.

This has placed him in conflict with Michael Kennedy, the New York attorney who runs the High Times empire; Kennedy was For?ade’s attorney at the time of his death.

Kennedy later became attorney and trustee for Trans-High Charitable Trust and the Trans-High Corporation, the parent entities behind High Times and Hemp Times magazines. Today, Kennedy and his wife Eleanore are reputed to be negotiating with For?ade’s family for control of the High Times/Hemp Times empire, Rosenthal says.

A 1991 New York magazine article about Kennedy, written by esteemed journalist and author Michael Gross, describes a man who started his career as a legal advisor to the counterculture but later became greedy, angry and frighteningly assertive.

Rosenthal has publicly questioned Kennedy’s management of For?ade’s will, claiming that the Trust was supposed to have distributed 50% of its proceeds to NORML. Rosenthal’s crusade also put him in conflict with NORML, and especially with its executive director, Keith Stroup.

NORML recently responded by firing Don Wirtshafter from its board of directors, in part because Wirtshafter agreed with some of Rosenthal’s criticisms of NORML’s handling of the Kennedy-For?ade affair.

Personality conflict

“A lot of people criticize my personality,” Rosenthal says. “I can be very blunt, and I believe there is something called right and wrong. That makes some people hate me. So what? I don’t think my personality is the real issue. We’ve all been assholes. We can all criticize each other’s personality. Who cares? What I’m concerned about is: did somebody steal money from the cause of legalization? Did somebody get somebody else busted? Did somebody violate a contract? Did somebody put their ass on the line for the plant? Have they ever grown it? Have they ever been arrested for it? Do they do anything other than make money off of it?”

Escape from New York

As Rosenthal transitions to Cannabis Culture, he finds himself busy with international horticultural research and book projects., as well as fighting US legislation to ban pro-pot publications, And more than ever, he is the subject of speculation and controversy.

Part of his problems come from his personal obscurity ? he isn’t a familiar icon on the hempfest tour circuit. Also, he can be mercilessly critical and mercurial: an indignant iconoclast driven to purge corruption and injustice.

At this year’s NORML conference, Rosenthal commandeered a microphone and did a Yippie-style protest, challenging NORML and DPF leaders to fund Jack Herer’s legalization efforts. Many witnesses said that Rosenthal’s “rant” was entertaining and justified.

“I have never been an organization person, somebody who would kiss ass,” he says. “Some people say I raised these [NORML/Trans-High] issues for my own financial benefit. I have taken a lot of hits because of this. It wasn’t for my benefit. It was for the benefit of people who believe in marijuana.”

Despite setbacks and hassles, Rosenthal is enthusiastic about sharing his cultivation expertise.

“I have lots of new information about growing, and about how we can move politically,” he says. “I am happy to be working with Cannabis Culture and Marc Emery. This organization is primarily run by activists; its major goal is to change the system so more people can grow and use marijuana. I feel a lot better being published here.”

? Quick Trading Company: PO Box 410067, San Francisco, CA 94141-0067; tel 1-800-848-4277; website www.quicktrading.com