“Cannabis is no longer a subculture, it’s pop-culture. It’s an industry worth billions, and as a movement it’s global.”
As cannabis normalizes it’s easy to forget about the days when cannabis enthusiasts were outsiders. We’ve come a long way as a culture, movement, and industry. Some, including myself, can’t remember when popular strains didn’t exist. When cannabis was just pot or grass no one knew much about it, let alone how to cultivate it. Weed was foreign, and ironically those who used it were considered part of the counterculture. Nowadays, some can’t remember when weed wasn’t legal (for medical purposes). Proposition 215 became law 20 years ago — now we have dabs, Kush, vape pens, medicated soda, etc. It’s enough to make an old timers’ head spin. Cannabis is no longer a subculture its pop-culture. It’s an industry worth billions, and as a movement it’s global.
So how did we get here? We didn’t just wake up one day and the nightmare of cannabis prohibition was almost over. There were many people who guided us. Individuals who discovered the plant, learned its potential, and shared their knowledge. To these people we owe special thanks.
One of these individuals is Jorge Cervantes, a horticulturalist, enthusiast, publisher, world-renowned author, and cannabis expert. He is a true pioneer. His educational books on cannabis horticulture reside on the shelves of millions of cannabis aficionados. Mention his name and anyone who has grown cannabis smiles. His videos and books demystified cannabis cultivation for many. Knowing of him is to be on the inside, a part of the cannabis community. He taught the world to grow weed.
Cervantes has been on the vanguard of modern cannabis cultivation since its inception in the 70s. From growing a few plants in a friend’s backyard during college, to growing sinsemilla in the late 70s, specializing in indoor horticulture in the 80s, and becoming an internationally renowned author in the 90s, Jorge has always been at the forefront of cannabis cultivation. He’s provided an informational backbone via his books that has laid the path for many accomplished cannabis farmers today. Additionally, his down-to-earth approach has cut through undeserved stigma and given many the courage to make a career out of their passion for cannabis, myself included.
So when I was given the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Cervantes and ask him about his life and career, I jumped at the chance. A legend in my midst, the man whose books I scoured and marked, the words I read when my plants were almost dead. It was an honor to interview him: so while he blazed his jay I asked my questions, and through plumes of smoke, I sat and listened. Here’s what he had to say…
Q: When did you discover your love of cannabis?
A: Well, it was actually the first time I smoked it in high school. We’d been getting all kinds of propaganda about how bad it was and then, one Friday night, three friends and I went out and smoked an ounce of Mexican dirt weed from one of my dads’ old pipes. I swear I thought I was in a movie. The best feeling I’d ever had in my life. I thought, well I’d been lied to…
Q: Can you still remember the first cannabis plant or plants you ever grew? What was the experience like?
A: Yes, actually I grew a few plants in Portland, Oregon. I finished university in Portland. I grew some plants there and it was kind of nondescript. That was the first time I grew plants. I lived there a couple of years [so] I grew more the next year. It was funny, they were high CBD plants and we thought there was something wrong with them because they wouldn’t get you high. Pretty interesting isn’t it? We had no clue…
Q: Can you remember the strain?
A: No, no. There was no strain… I helped my friend grow them. They were in his backyard and they were volunteers. He didn’t have a green thumb and I did, so I grew them. They were really nice, budded up. Never got too tall, about four feet. They were “no high” plants (laughing)… That’s what we called them.
Q: Did you pick them from a plant?
A: No. These were volunteer, they were seeds thrown off the back porch. You got to remember during that time – in the early 70’s – there was only a few people who had great varieties and I didn’t know them at the time.
Q: Was there an “all-in-moment” or certain point when you decided that you were going to make your passion for cannabis into a career?
A: Yes, actually there was. Right at first from 1977. I was in, that’s when I started growing big. I was sure that was my career from ’77 to ’89. I was in it very heavily. Then [later] we had [Operation] Green Merchant and that’s when 43 [horticulture and seed] stores were popped. I didn’t get popped but they were all over me and they popped a bunch of my friends. They were trying to get me. Three people told me that they tried to get them to roll [over] on me, but nobody would do it. I mean yes man! It was great (laughing)! That was great! No body rolled me… Then I got out [of it] for a few years because it was just too scary. I went over Chicago, I saw this guy David, and [the authorities] were putting all this heat on him. He was on the evening news a couple times a month. The cops were in his parking lot almost every day and I said, “David how do you deal with this, how do you sleep?” He said, “I just don’t think about it because I’m not doing anything wrong.” [I thought] “that’s pretty cool.” That’s what I needed, I just needed someone to kick me a little bit and then I went back [into cannabis] full speed.
Q: Was there a point when you realized that there was a void or a need to be filled in regards to the cannabis industry, despite how fledgling the industry might have been at the time? In other words, did you have an “ah-ha” moment?
A: Yes, it was clear to me in the early 80s. I was growing indoors. I’d been to South America for a while and I came back, I was living in Portland [again]. I knew [how to grow] from years before and then people in Oregon were [growing weed]. They’d seen a couple gardens but nobody really knew what the hell they were doing. There was a lot of misinformation and I thought well, gosh… There are no books on this and in high school I worked at the newspaper office so I knew a lot about printing. So I figured out that I could print my own book because nobody else had printed. They said it wouldn’t sell and I said, “well you’re wrong.” So I [wrote a book] and it sold. I had to print it myself. The next year it sold 6,000 copies which was an incredible amount. Then, the next year it started selling like 20,000 copies and it took off.
Q: What do you feel like you did different than others?
A: It’s really simple (laughing)… All I did was make things simple and straightforward, normal you know… It’s not rocket science. It’s just a regular plant and you say the honest things about it. It’s not some secret soil mix. You don’t have to do any rituals (laughing). It’s a plant. You need good genetics. You should keep track of what you’re growing. Pay attention — don’t let things get too wet. There is a lot of detail. All I did was give good clean simple information. That was my trick… Good honest information, the best I could find.
Q: When did you realize you made it, the point when you were finally considered an expert on cannabis?
A: I don’t know. I’m not sure if you ever feel like you really make it. [It’s] kind of funny. That said, every year I go to Spannabis. It’s the biggest cannabis trade show in the world. It’s in my city, Barcelona, [Spain] and I have to hide because if I’m not hiding or out of the public view, if I make eye contact with people [next thing you know] I’m out there taking pictures… Here’s an example, four years ago I was at a fair, it was called GrowMed in Valencia, [California] – where I used to go to university – I was there for three days and I said, “ok I’ll take pictures with everybody.” I took 1,500 photos with people! That’s a lot man! I mean your rock and roll, going 100 miles an hour all the time (laughing). Anyway, it’s good and bad because I’m noticeable. I’ve done a lot of videos and stuff.
Q: So it’s known that you write under a pen name, I do too… What gave you the courage to publish, write, and tell your story?
A: Well, the pen name has been really good for me. It gave me a lot of anonymity that I really needed. The disguise (referring to his video’s where he dons a beret and fake dreads), I came up with that… I call it the Che Marley (laughing). It was necessary because I did those High Times videos and back then I crossed a lot of borders. You just don’t want any trouble. I’ve sat in the little room too many times. [But when] I moved to Spain in ’98, I didn’t need a disguise. I could just be a normal person and it felt great! You know, [cannabis] was accepted, everybody accepted me. I was on [Spain’s] version of CNN. I did a big talk, a lot of people came and the news media picked it up. I was on “CNN of Spain” for almost a minute and a half, five-to-six times a day for two weeks! Everybody in the whole country knew me. It was great! People would come and ask me questions. I was treated properly like a human, not like a criminal and it felt good. I had 15 years of that and [when] I came back [to the U.S.] it was a different country than the one I left. I could grow in my backyard [again]… So I thought, well I’m going to come out here and I’m tired of wearing this disguise. So I came out on an interview on NPR.
Q: Many people look up to you as a credible figure in the cannabis industry, you have accomplished a lot, was there an influential figure in your life that either served as a role model or aided you toward the point you are at now?
A: Yes, there were many role models that inspired me. I figure we are all in this together and we all need one another’s support. After 33 years of [publicity] in the cannabis industry, you meet a lot of people.
Q: What are you most proud of when you look back over the years?
A: Probably still being here! And, I did a lot of books in foreign languages. We have a company in Spain and I published [my book] Marijuana Horticulture in Russian. I’m really proud of that. It was quite difficult. It’s really cool because the Russians don’t have any grow books and there’s a lot of Russians out there and they need to grow too. So I’m really proud of that, it really opened up a lot more people to cannabis cultivation. I’m [also] super proud of my new book. It’s really my opus – you know 596 pages and it’s great. “The Cannabis Encyclopedia,” I’m super proud of it!
Q: I feel that you have made a great effort toward legitimizing cannabis lifestyles, cultivation, and careers… Do you feel you have made an imprint upon the cannabis community as a whole and, if so, in your opinion, what is that imprint?
A: I think more than anything I showed I’m just a regular guy and I can grow a lot of plants, and you can too. It’s not that difficult. You don’t have to be a tough guy or go to a university or know some special secrets. I just treat things like a regular plant. Obviously cannabis is special. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve done, [I didn’t] mystify things or treat anything as strange.
Q: What kind of legacy do you hope to impart upon the future of the cannabis industry?
A: I don’t know. I never really thought of a legacy. Mainly, you too can grow big plants!
Q: Looking into the future and reflecting upon the past, what most excites you about a future legal cannabis industry?
A: People will be able to grow as much as they want. That’s the biggest thing because why should there be limits? The other thing that’s really exciting – [something] I been wanting for years – is genetic maps of these plants, decoding the genomes of different varieties. Phylos Bioscience in Oregon is doing that right now. [It’s] really exciting because it’s one thing that’s always driven me nuts – say if you get a Big Bud plant, an old one that’s been kicked around a lot and is the base of a lot of [hybrids] – if you get a Big Bud from one company it’s different from the Big Bud from another company. There are all kinds of variation and things are not stable, people are not breeding with true breeding plants to form true F1 hybrids. So even though there are tons of different hybrids, the entire seed business is not sophisticated at all. It’s changing these genetic maps – genome decoding – that’s going to open everything up. For example, there are markers for CBD – it’s black-and-white, on-and-off. You can find this marker and develop CBD rich plants. You can do that for a lot of different cannabinoids. We will have this [capability].
Q: In your opinion, can you describe what you think the cannabis industry might look like in 10, 15, 20 years? In California and nationwide…
A: Let’s see… The price of cannabis in ten years will probably drop to $100 a pound. It’s probably going to be grown in big fields using tractors and hydraulic machinery. It will all be harvested at the same time and made into concentrates. The concentrates will be dosed into products. [This] will create tons of new products because you can put it in everything. [It] will be mass-produced. We’re going to see cannabis competitions at the county fair! The highest yield per acre (laughing). But boutique growers are going to continue to produce premium cannabis and concentrates. It will be like the wine market. People just need to be more efficient.
Q: In the emerald triangle people often fear “big marijuana” or the corporatization of the cannabis industry… People around here fear monopolization of the industry… What most scares you about the future of cannabis?
A: Well first off, the only way those monopolies can form and exclude the little guy is if they do it under the law. They [would need to] control the law and they already tried that once in Ohio. They got voted down. We have to keep control of what’s going on. Gavin Newsom is on the little guys’ side. We got to stay politically active. What I’m really more concerned about is the lesser laws so to speak. The local laws, they can become very restrictive. In a lot of places they have outlawed cannabis cultivation. They have also put huge restrictions on it. All of that concerns me [the most]. There’s going to be a lot of little battles we will need to fight. I see people are organizing to fight those battles, which is good.
Q: What do you think beholds the future of the cannabis industry in the emerald triangle?
A: Growers need to become more efficient and cut production costs. The price of cannabis is going to go down. Growers also need to organize and rally. You got to work with state and county governments. Sometimes they are unreasonable but you have to work with them. Organize and plan for water and soil conservation needs. That’s paramount! The other thing is all the money made in the community [should] stay there. It shouldn’t be taken out. It should stay right where it is. I mean damn it, you made it there!
Q: Last question, a fun one, what have you been “medicating” with lately? A strain, concentrate, edible, etc…
A: Well, right now I’m puffing on this Queen Bee from Spain. I got some cuttings [of it] last year. It’s really a nice, nice sativa. I’m growing some [other] nice things this year too… Sugaree, Green Crack, Sour Diesel… I got another bed of Ghost OG and Royal Kush… I got all those from Kevin Jodrey at Wonderland Nursery [in the emerald triangle] – you bet!
Written by Ed Huddon