man in Oaksterdam hoodie in front of blue wall
Author and cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal (Photo/Dabsel Adams)

This East Bay cannabis guru wants you to grow your own

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“Everybody loves pot.”

So says Ed Rosenthal, legalization activist and longtime elder statesman of California’s cannabis scene. He sees federal legislation to legalize the drug as inevitable because that’s what the public — and the market — want, even if many politicians haven’t accepted it yet.

“Cannabis is more popular than any politician,” he said with a laugh. “And that’s why they hate it.”

In California, legalization has made it possible to buy everything from unadorned bud at a grungy local shop to vegan gummies from the gleaming, chandelier-hung Apothecarium in San Francisco. And legalization at the federal level, proposed this month, would only make it easier.

While Rosenthal is happy about these changes, the Piedmont resident is still an advocate for good, old-fashioned home growing, and has written a new book on the topic. It is the best way to control the quality of the soil, water and nutrients, he said.

“You know exactly what went into the plant. It’s the same thing as with growing fruit or vegetables at home — the inputs to the garden. And then another thing is that it’s much fresher. And certainly, a major thing is that growing is much, much cheaper than buying.”

It’s also a hobby that is no longer risky in California, he said.

“It could have ruined your career. It could have stopped you from getting into school. So there were a lot of reasons not to grow that are no longer applicable,” Rosenthal said. “It’s perfectly legal for you to grow. You can’t get in trouble.”

That’s a far cry from how marijuana was viewed when Rosenthal first entered the scene.

Rosenthal, 76, grew up in the Bronx in what he described as a middle-class Jewish family. As a kid, he loved plants and science. But he said he always felt different.

“I had a different way of thinking about things, sort of outside the box,” he said. “Then when I met cannabis, I knew that that was going to be an ally of mine for a long time.”

Ed Rosenthal and his vocation, cannabis (Photo/Christian Peacock)
Ed Rosenthal and his vocation, cannabis (Photo/Christian Peacock)

That was in college, in the mid-’60s. It was a consequential time — Rosenthal still feels that the cultural divide that emerged during that decade was a catalyst for progressive movements changing society today, including the movement to legalize marijuana, for which he was a longtime advocate.

“Basically that was the beginning of the woke movement — what is now called the woke movement,” he said. “And from that rift, we got the environmental movements, women’s movement, continuation of the racial equality movement and generally a different look at society.”

Rosenthal’s first book on cannabis cultivation was “Indoor-Outdoor Marijuana Growers Catalog,” written with Mel Frank in the early 1970s. Almost 50 years and dozens of books later, his new book, “Cannabis Grower’s Handbook,” is launching in October. It’s appropriate for total beginners, he said, but is no quick guide. It’s science-based with the input of experts from across the industry.

“It assumes that you know nothing about plants, that you’re from Mars and have never seen a plant before. And it goes from there,” he said. “By the time you’re done with the book, you’re working at a college level.”

In his adopted home state of California, where he’s lived since the 1970s, Rosenthal has seen cannabis go from being strictly illegal to being allowed for medical use, to its legalization for recreational use by adults in 2018.

Marijuana for medicinal use is now legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and legal for recreational use in 18 of those states and D.C. On July 14, Sen. Chuck Schumer proposed legislation to make it legal at the federal level. The law would take marijuana off the controlled substances list, where it resides along with heroin and LSD, opening up a huge new business opportunity nationwide and removing a lot of uncertainty that businesses in states like California face.

“Banking is really difficult,” Rosenthal said of commerce in the cannabis industry. “Here’s your company doing millions of dollars in business and some of them have to take cash or have subterfuge, all of this stuff that businesses shouldn’t have to go through.”

For Rosenthal, the rollout of legalization is a long-due recognition of the place of cannabis in society. And he hopes that his new book will give people interested in creating their own leafy garden all the answers they need.

“It’s more comprehensive than any other book,” he said. “And everything is backed by science. There’s no mystery.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.