Higher Ed's perspective 

The dean of pot growing comes to town

Ed Rosenthal has been the longest and strongest voice talking about how to grow marijuana over the past 30 years through his "Ask Ed" column in High Times and Cannabis Culture magazines. On top of that he has written and published more than a dozen books on the subject, with more than 2 million copies sold worldwide. What's he got to say for himself after decades of growing, writing and teaching about marijuana?

"It was a major mistake," says the self-named Guru of Ganja. "I write about marijuana a lot and people give me a lot of free marijuana. I should have been writing about gold and diamonds — I wouldn't have smoked up the take."

Rosenthal will bring that sense of humor, in addition to his enormous knowledge of growing, to Michigan this month when he teaches seminars June 23 in Traverse City and June 24 in Lansing. He teaches horticulture at Oaksterdamn University, a cannabis industry trade school in California, where his encyclopedic Marijuana Growers Handbook is a textbook.

He sees marijuana law as a crucial social issue and has served as an expert witness in a number of federal and state trials. In his book, Why Marijuana Should Be Legal, he discusses why pot is illegal and how to go about changing the law. The home page of his blog at edrosenthal.com is dedicated to legal issues and anti-drug war activism.

"I'm more impatient than ever with the laws and with the authorities and their attempts to thwart the will of the majority of the people," Rosenthal says. "I've come to the conclusion that it's a jobs issue for cops and for the whole criminal justice system. Spending on U.S. marijuana prohibition is $30 billion dollars a year [various estimates range from about $15 billion to $50 billion]. If prohibition ended, those dollars wouldn't be part of the equation. Another reason criminal justice doesn't want to give it up is because it puts so many people under their control and in fear of them; they don't want to give up the Prohibition model. The fight for medical marijuana and marijuana in general is a political fight. We're tired of the security state; we want our freedom." 

Rosenthal has literally had to fight for his freedom. In 2002, while growing marijuana legally under a medical marijuana distribution program authorized by the city of Oakland, Calif., he was busted by federal authorities. In the ensuing trial, the jury was not allowed to know that his marijuana growing was sanctioned by the city. He was found guilty, although several jurors denounced their verdict after they learned the true circumstances of Rosenthal's case. Although Rosenthal was only sentenced to one day's time already served, he appealed the conviction and in 2006 the appeals court overturned it. However, the judge ruled that Rosenthal could be retried but with no additional sentence. In 2007, he was found guilty of conspiracy, cultivation and using a commercial site for growing and distributing marijuana. 

Keeping the jury in the dark about a defendant's medical marijuana status is apparently a tactic that's in common usage by prosecutors. It has been used in getting convictions in Michigan medical marijuana cases. Recently Barb Agro was found guilty of growing marijuana after the jury was not allowed to know that she is a state-certified medical marijuana patient and caregiver. Agro was scheduled to be sentenced this week and her lawyer plans to appeal the decision.

Looking back on his own trial, Rosenthal says, "They know they couldn't win a case if the jury hears it. The group that makes the rules wins. They make these rules but I make my own rules. If I had to do it all over again I would be my own lawyer. I couldn't have done worse than my attorneys did. The deck was stacked against me. Attorneys were too shy about doing things. I didn't take the stand. Looking back, I think I would have taken the stand. The first thing defendants should do when taking the stand is say, 'I am a medical marijuana patient. The judge and the district attorney don't want you to know but that that is the deal.' What are they going to do? Once a jury hears it you can't put it back. It takes a brave person to do that, but if you're facing serious time, why not?" 

Rosenthal has been brave enough to be a marijuana activist when few others were willing. After growing pot in his home and putting together a growing system in the 1960s and 1970s, he began writing about growing marijuana. Spurred on by early success, he helped found High Times in 1974, where his "Ask Ed" column was featured from 1980 to 2000. Rosenthal founded Quick American Publishing in 1984 to publish books on marijuana. In 2010, books by Rosenthal and others, such as Aunt Sandy's Medical Marijuana Cookbook, by Sandy Moriarity, had sales totaling more than $1 million. Sex Pot: The Marijuana Lover's Guide to Getting It On, by Mamakind, scheduled for a fall release, may well bump the numbers up for 2011 with its one-thing-leads-to-another mix of fun activities.  Rosenthal is also the executive director of Green Aid: The Medical Marijuana Legal Defense and Education Fund. Its stated mission is: To legislate the will of the people where it matters most — in the courts.

But his visit to Michigan is focused on growing marijuana. "I'm bringing the message of how to cultivate great marijuana," says Rosenthal. "If you are already growing, I can show you how to improve your techniques. It's a very political message. What that message is saying is that you're taking responsibility for your own health and taking it out of the hands of the system."

But be careful, once you get started, you might not be able to stop. As Rosenthal warns early in the Marijuana Grower's Handbook: "Using marijuana may not be habit-forming or addictive, but growing it is."

For more information about Ed Rosenthal's Michigan seminars call 877-633-5945 or see medibiss.com.

Medical marijuana advocates across the country have had cause for alarm regarding the federal Department of Justice response to medical marijuana facilities. Last week the DoJ sent a memo to U.S. attorneys nationwide that calls for targeting "large-scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers." In addition, federal authorities warned the city of Chico, Calif., not to approve a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance. It looks like the Obama administration is changing its perceived policy of going easy on medical marijuana dispensaries. Its October 2009 guidelines said the administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws. The latest memo says no patient or other user is protected from federal prosecution by state laws.

Last week state Attorney General Bill Schuette sent his own get-tough message in an opinion saying that under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act dispensaries are illegal and the only  protections under state law are for patients and caregivers who grow in personal private facilities. Sounds like tough times are coming down the pike for medical marijuana supporters.

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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