About Freedom: Musings from an Interview with Ed Rosenthal

Ed Rosenthal is all about freedom; the freedom of speech, of the marketplace, of personal choice. Think about how he must have had to use the much-touted American freedom of speech as a battering ram over the years to get his words in print and on bookshelves. His more than a dozen books on growing cannabis, its medicinal uses, selecting varieties, and social policy attests to his success. The “Ask Ed” column he began in High Times magazine in 1983 has expanded into a YouTube channel, which is also available for download at Ed’s Big Buds app.


Sweet freedom is not what Ed sees in any of the California cannabis initiative contenders. He endorses none of them. The Secretary of State website, sos.ca.gov, lists fourteen as “cleared for circulation” as of this writing, not all of them unique. In fact, four of them are versions of the same one, MCLR 2016, or as it is known, the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act. At the MCLR 2016 website you will see mention of version five. The state Attorney General’s website lists versions six and seven as active measures. Sort of confusing. In a bid to speed up the petition process while keeping costs down, the MCLR 2016 folks are urging people to download and sign their version five petition, calling it “the first marijuana legalization initiative specifically developed to use social media and the Internet community.” But, are you signing a valid petition?


Of the other 10 cannabis initiatives listed by the Secretary of State, two have been proposed by Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP, three address medical cannabis only and two of these are constitutional amendments requiring more than half as many signatures (585,407) as a regular initiative (365,880).  The $200 fee for filing means almost anyone can do so. That is freedom in action, and has led to a short stack of odd little potential ballot measures that definitely read more like personal gripes than well thought out legislation.


Perhaps the nastiest sleeper of negativity of them all is Number 15-0069, the California Safe and Drug-Free Community Act. It bans all privately owned medical cannabis cultivation operations and dispensaries, creates state-owned dispensaries, and a single state-owned site for medical cannabis cultivation, testing, and processing only. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also endorses current Federal law.  Not about freedom at all, this one.


Then there is the Sean Parker (Mr. Napster) Initiative, a late-bloomer that has swept aside much of the competition, according to writer Russ Belville in his December 11, 2015 article at marijuanapolitics.com. Billionaire funding sure helps. Some former ReformCA endorsers have jumped ship to back Parker’s petition.  Ed expressed some concern about this one.

When asked about the California Craft Cannabis Initiative, he said, it would lead to massive graft, big money persuasion to twist the meaning of ‘craft’ and ‘artisanal’.  He considers the Jack Herer Initiative “not passable.”


Ed supports his own Bill of Rights, a set of seven simple steps to undo much of the damage of prohibition. Missing, however, is any mention of freeing the thousands of folks incarcerated under earlier and current law. Other than that omission, the simple elegance of Ed’s Bill of Rights makes it a fine template for all legislation. Several times during our conversation, he reiterated that “everybody should be allowed to grow” as long as they meet basic civic responsibilities – zoning, health, environmental. He supports a simple, easily available license and escalating fines for those who violate those civic standards.

Many of his comments spoke of the freedom of the marketplace. He declared, “I’m interested in consumers.” He spoke of us living in a different world from the old days when dealers drove the cannabis market. Now we have “horticulturalists, not outlaws.” And it is not about growers setting the pace either. Now it is consumers, and growers, who will try to meet the demand.  The cannabis market began to be consumer driven “in 1994 when Dennis [Peron} opened the first cannabis club.” The free market will protect small, artisanal, organic growers in a world of legalized, industrial cannabis if the demand is there. He used the great example of “Tomato Mamas,” growers of organic, heirloom tomatoes who successfully compete in a world of commercial growers. “Let the market decide” was Ed’s call.


The market will drive prices too. When I asked if the end of prohibition at the national level will depress prices, he responded that the value of the bud may decline once the risk is gone, but taxes will make up for that decline. “Profit comes with risk,” as he said. And a quick read of the current crop of California initiatives proves that legalization comes with taxes.


Ed spoke of threats to the free market from foreign investors, as he claims is happening in Washington State. He suggested that the best antidote to foreign incursions is to cultivate homegrown corporations with enough resources to fend off outside interests and to back research and development, as companies like Bell Labs used to do.


Consumers will demand quality and the best price, which led him to mention climate. To Ed, the best cannabis in California will always come from the Central Valley because of its full sun. As with those tomatoes, he said Mendocino and Humboldt County bud could never compete because the climate is too wet and cool. When I asked about the heat in a place like Ukiah, he agreed it gets hot but not “at the time the flowers are coming in.”


What will it take to get the Feds to reschedule cannabis realistically? “Elect Bernie Sanders” was his reply.


We spoke for a while about his fall 2015 book Beyond Buds, a most comprehensive volume on alternatives to smoking, from edibles to shatter, hash to vaping to dabs. What a labor of love! Ed answered some personal questions inspired by the book. When I asked if he knows of anyone using CBD-rich strains to make shatter and dabs as medicine, he replied, “Yes,” and suggested I ask around at the next cannabis fair I get to.  How encouraging to think these concentrated forms exist for medical use.


Remembering my experiences cooking cannabinated spinach-based dishes for a medical delivery service in San Francisco in the 90s, including the Greek dish spanakopita, I asked if he would consider adding a small section about leafy green dishes to the next edition of Beyond Buds. His thoughtful reply expressed concern over dosage control with main dishes, siting that portion control more manageable with small, separate items like cookies. Then he spoke of the best dosage control method, drops of a cold alcohol-based cannabis tincture on any food item. This is total control by the consumer, especially now that chemical analysis can reveal the exact amount of THC in the bud used to make the tincture. Ingenious.


Ed’s strong sense of freedom of speech can sound harsh. It is speech unconcerned with the sensibilities of the listener. In again reiterating his interest in the consumer, he said there is “no question” that bud grown in the Central Valley of California is better quality than any from Mendocino or Humboldt Counties, except for some light dep, because of climate and called a “fantasy” the self-importance of Mendo and Humboldt growers, agriculturally or politically.

The “Guru of Ganja” has two books coming out in 2016, Harvest, about the best ways to harvest your plants and a revision of the compilation The Best of Buds. In the meantime, he says you can find him “continuing to do basic research on flowering and how to increase yields while decreasing the waste parts of the plant.”

Emerald contributor since July 2015


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