The first time Ed Rosenthal smoked pot, he thought, “This is the greatest thing that ever happened in my life.” The year was 1965, and Rosenthal was 21 and working on Wall Street. A few years later he found himself in the Bay Area, rubbing elbows with the Youth International Party, aka Yippies, a radical countercultural political party that counted Abbie Hoffman, Nancy Kurshan, and Jerry Rubin among its members and was responsible for pranks, sit-ins, and shutdowns all over the country. It was in this greenhouse of political and social activism that Rosenthal began to explore cannabis horticulture while simultaneously challenging the legal standing of cannabis cultivation, two acts that have landed him a spot on the Stash Box list of Cannabis Luminaries.
One of his earliest major accomplishments came in 1972, when Rosenthal managed to get in front of voters a California state initiative that would have legalized cannabis for personal use. It was voted down, but a public conversation concerning the repeal of prohibition had begun, at least in that state.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Rosenthal guided an entire generation of pot growers through his “Ask Ed” column in High Times, eventually publishing the authoritative book on growing, Marijuana Grower’s Handbook, an unequivocally groundbreaking collection of science and folk wisdom for pot cultivation.
Rosenthal also worked extensively with AIDS and cancer patients during this time, providing medical-grade cannabis in exchange for information on how different strains affected them. He documented this work in the Marijuana Medical Handbook: A Guide to Therapeutic Use, the industry standard for prescribing cannabis medicinally.
In 1998, two years after California legalized medical weed, the Oakland City Council granted Rosenthal the legal standing to grow cannabis. He did, filling an old warehouse in West Oakland. However, cannabis was then (as now) illegal on the federal level. So in 2003 the DEA raided Rosenthal’s warehouse, seizing hundreds of plants and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. When Rosenthal finally got his day in court, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer would not let him discuss the fact that the Oakland City Council had granted him growing privileges, nor could he call any public officials to testify that it had happened, effectively pulling the rug out from under his defense team and leaving Rosenthal to face up to 25 years in prison for manufacturing and distribution of marijuana.
With public outcry mounting, the judge sentenced Rosenthal to one day, with time served.
In 2006, the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court overturned Rosenthal’s conviction. A few months later, the U.S. Attorney’s office re-indicted him, and he went back to court in 2007. Two weeks later, Rosenthal was convicted of three of the five counts. He served no additional time.
These days, the septuagenarian is taking it all in stride, teaching cannabis horticulture at Oakland’s Oaksterdam University. A member of the International Cannabinoid Research Society and The Association for Garden Communicators, his career has spawned his own line of pesticides and over a dozen books that have cumulatively sold more than two million copies and spread the gospel of cannabis cultivation worldwide. And for those not interested in growing their own, Rosenthal’s site even offers prerolled joints “loaded with primo weed, selected by the Guru of Ganja himself.”