Giants of Cannabis: Ed Rosenthal
Read about the history and impact Ed had on the industry.
No matter if you’re smoking or eating it, or doing it for fun or for your health care, chances are whoever grew the cannabis you’re using learned how to do it through Ed Rosenthal. While there are many great cannabis cultivators out there, few have as much skin in the game or have really shaped how growers around the world understand the plant. As a horticulturalist, author and educator, Ed Rosenthal is responsible for developing and promulgating many cultivation strategies that revolutionized the field, empowering countless individuals to grow and utilize cannabis for medical, recreational, and industrial purposes. Best of all, he’s still at it today, surviving powerful attempts to shut him down and paving the way for individuals and an industry to follow in his footsteps. As Tommy Chong himself said, Ed “holds the distinction of turning more people onto pot than Cheech and Chong.”
Clearly, the man still has a lot to teach us. Here’s how he earned his reputation.
Early Life and Education
Born in the Bronx in 1944, Rosenthal developed an interest in plants at a young age. Speaking to High Times, he recalled a time when he would take seeds from plants in gardens where he lived, repackage them and sell them. He first smoked cannabis in college in 1965, finally getting the hang of it a year later. “I knew as soon as I got high that this was an ally of mine in the same way Carlos Castaneda spoke about little smoke or big smoke being an ally. And that this was really a good friend of mine,” he said of the experience.
From there, Rosenthal moved on to become a dealer, traveling around the world and learning the ins and outs of cannabis cultivation. In 1974, Rosenthal co-founded High Times Magazine, eventually writing its popular Ask Ed column, which cemented his reputation internationally as a respected and knowledgeable cannabis cultivator.
Emergence as a Cannabis Expert
Rosenthal began what would become a lucrative publishing career with the release of "Marijuana Grower's Handbook," a book he co-authored with Mel Frank, in 1977. This comprehensive guide provided readers with detailed information on cannabis horticulture, including cultivation techniques, troubleshooting, fertilizing and accounting for growing conditions. The book quickly became a bestseller and cemented Rosenthal's reputation as an authority in the field.
Rosenthal has since published over a dozen books on cannabis alone, as well as a book on non-cannabis gardening. He now publishes under his own imprint, Quick Trading Publishing, which he runs alongside his wife Jane Klein.
Activism and Legal Battles
Throughout his career, Rosenthal has been a staunch advocate for cannabis legalization and normalization. In the 1990s, he served as an expert witness in various court cases related to cannabis. His efforts contributed to the passage of California's Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in the state.
Rosenthal's activism and cultivation practices eventually attracted the attention of federal authorities. Labeled as an Officer of the City of Oakland to grow medical cannabis in 1999, Rosenthal was arrested and charged with multiple counts of marijuana cultivation and conspiracy in 2002. Although he was operating within California state law as an authorized medical marijuana provider, the federal government did not recognize these protections. Rosenthal was subsequently convicted and faced a potential sentence of several decades in prison.
In a surprising turn of events, several jurors from Rosenthal's trial publicly denounced their guilty verdict after learning that the judge had disallowed crucial evidence regarding his status as a medical marijuana provider. The public outcry and support for Rosenthal eventually led to a reduced sentence of one day in prison, which he had already served.
The federal government attempted again to convict him on three of the original five counts in 2007. The jury would eventually deadlock on two of the counts and acquit him of one. He received no jail time. His court case, and the public’s response to it, indicated to the federal government that a brand-new day had dawned in America, and that attacking medical cannabis was an increasingly unpopular battle.
Continuing Influence and Legacy
Since those days, Rosenthal has remained dedicated to cannabis education and advocacy. He has authored numerous books on the subject, including "Marijuana Pest and Disease Control," "Marijuana Harvest," and "Beyond Buds," each focusing on different aspects of cannabis cultivation and consumption. Having sold over two million of them, his works have been translated into multiple languages, and he has lectured and taught seminars worldwide.
In 2010, Rosenthal was named as a professor at Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, an institution dedicated to providing comprehensive education on the cannabis industry. During his stint as a faculty member, Rosenthal taught cannabis horticulture. His status is currently Professor Emeritus.
In addition to his educational endeavors, Rosenthal has started several other businesses related to cannabis, including the business conference International Cannabis Business Conference, the cannabis consultancy Quantum 9, The Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum and the legal defense and education fund Green Aid. In keeping with his legacy as cannabis’s Johnny Appleseed, Rosenthal began releasing seed packs of his own genetics after the DEA acknowledged that cannabis seeds were legal to distribute. Coming from a man who has his own bud named after him, that’s quite a value-add for any book sale.
A true believer in the cannabis plant’s virtues, Rosenthal maintains that the best policy for it remains the “tomato model,” where homegrowers, small business owners and industry can co-exist. At the end of the day, however, he’s a home cultivator at heart, and hopes that this portion of cannabis culture never falls out of style. "My main concern is that people have the right to grow their marijuana. The closer the consumer is to the flower, the easier it is for cannabis to stay regional,” he told Benzinga. “That's why I don't mind giant industrial cannabis companies, as long as people have the right to grow their own at home."