The Cannabis Innovators Heros and Legends in the Pot Trade

Smoke it in a bowl, a chillum, a pipe, a joint, a blunt, a bong or suck on a vaporizer. Cook it in pizza, shrimp sauce or soup. Use it for medicine for the body, for the soul, for the head or for sex. In the end it comes down to a weed that’s been grown in over one hundred countries during the last several thousand years. But it’s only in the last 35 or so years that the great weed Weed has become the object of more horticultural scrutiny than probably any other plant on the planet during the same period. That scrutiny has led to several innovations that have changed the way many of us see, view, touch, taste and smoke it.


Thousands of people have had a hand in its genetics, the way it’s lit, watered, the politics around it and every other aspect of the changes we’ve seen in the last few decades. Most of those changes, in other words, can’t really be attributed to one person. As Ed Rosenthal, the Guru of Ganja, notes, “frequently it’s thousands of people developing the same thing at the same time.” But while the revolution would have happened without any one or all of these people and events, it would have happened differently.

How Cannabis Came to the New World and Sinsemilla Migrated from Mexico
Two of the most important innovations in the history of cannabis as we know it were the introduction of Cannabis to the New World and later, sinsemilla to the US and Canada from Mexico. To find out how both of those things happened, we turned to Paul Krassner, the great satirist and counterculture historian, who happens to have a great story that explains both events.
“Well, it’s a story that starts out in Yalapa, Mexico,” Krassner told Heads. “It was told to me as a true story. It’s about a guy named David Wheeler. One day a friend of his brought something to smoke down the hill from near where they were staying. It was called sin hueso, without bones. The friend told Wheeler it was much stronger than anything he’d ever smoked and it had a sweet smell like no grass Wheeler had ever smoked. He took two hits and felt he was about to pass out.
“A year later, Wheeler and a fellow named Tom Newman, went to live with the Nahuatl Indians, the people who grew the best grass in the world. From there they went to Michuacan where the famous Michuacan grass came from. But how did it get there in the first place?
“An 80-year-old Indian told Wheeler a story that he’d heard from his grandfather about that. He said that in the year 1510 the explorer Fernando Cortez arrived with a boatload of Moors. Most of the Moors just laid around and drank coconut beer, but 10 of them hiked to the Pass of Cortez, located between two volcanos. They saw the most beautiful fruit and crops growing there and asked the locals if they could plant the seeds from their favorite grass that they’d brought from Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan there. And the Indians said yes. And that was the introduction of grass to the Western World,” says Krassner, “at least how it was explained to me.”
“What about the sinsemilla?” he was asked.
“I’m getting to it. Wheeler wanted an adventure and Newman suggested he grow a ton of the seedless, sin hueso grass and bring it back to the states to shake up the Kundilini Chakra there. Well, Wheeler had spent seven months living with the indigenous learning how to sex the plants and eliminate the males so he gave it a try.
“It took two years to get it together, from begging Indians to give him seeds to trying to find people to grow it, to actually growing it. Then he had to try to explain why he was killing half the plants. He had a semantic crisis with that: after all he was killing the machos in a macho place.
“But when Wheeler finally had his ton he realized he had no idea of how to smuggle it. So he found an alleged expert named Buckwheat, and they began to move it. Two kilos here, 200 kilos there. Their personal stash was four kilos of the stickiest, shiniest, psychedelic grass they’d ever seen.
“Buckwheat, who was in the music business, gave some to the Byrds at a concert, and to David Crosby, who smoked it and announced on stage: ‘I just smoked the most fantastic grass. It’s called Sansimion and it comes right up the coast.’
“San Simion, of course, was the name of the William Randolph Hearst estate, and Wheeler quickly corrected Crosby: ‘That grass is called sin semilla, without seeds.’
“And that was the start of it, at least according to David Wheeler.”
Krassner says he met Wheeler, who died about a year ago, in Venice and Marin County a number of times. Did he believe Wheeler’s claim? “Yes,” he says, then adds “but there is always an absolute truth, and who knows if this guy was exaggerating or not. I just reported what he said.”
A longer, more complete version of this story appears in Paul Krassner’s book, Murder at the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities, published by Barricade Books (
It’s interesting that Crosby initially called the grass San Simion. Hearst spent years demonizing marijuana in his newspapers, in what is certainly one of the deepest roots of the War on Drugs. The demonizing allegedly began in retaliation for Pancho Villa, whose men were said to move on mota, grass, liberating tens of thousands of acres of Mexican forest that Hearst had illegally bought from a corrupt Mexican president.

Mel Frank: Godfather of the Innovators
Without question, one of cannabis’ most important all-around innovators—as cultivator, writer, photographer and publisher—is Mel Frank. A Vietnam-era veteran who grew up in the US northeast, Frank served four-years in the Navy. On his discharge in 1967, he moved to New York City and smoked his first joint in March, 1968. He started growing shortly after that, in what he describes as “a gigantic apartment with east light in something like seven rooms.” He published his first article on pot growing in 1970 in the New York Flyer section of Rolling Stone, the most sought after article they’d ever published. He also met Ed Rosenthal through that article. “Ed wanted to write a book with me about marijuana growing,” he told Heads. “I resisted. I wanted to go to college.” He did, studying botany and applying what he learned to the hundreds of cannabis plants he was growing.
There were a couple of books on marijuana cultivation out at that time—including Bill Drake’s Marijuana: The Cultivator’s Handbook and John Mann’s Mary Jane Supergrass—but they were short on real information. For instance, says Frank, “I was growing my first crop with flourescents and added some incandescents, but the plants just kept growing, they wouldn’t flower. It was just by chance that I bagan turning the lights off, to see if maybe that would make it feel less like summer to them. By the time I got down to about 14 hours of light a day, they began to flower.
“I also learned you could take cuttings from them. I had a lot of other houseplants, maybe one hundred, so I knew a lot about plants, but not about the cannabis plant.”
By the time he’d finished college he’d learned. He was one of cannabis’ finest cultivators, collecting seeds from around the world—Thai, Cambodian, Chiba, Panamanian, Durban Poison, Colombian Gold, Afghani—breeding them purely, finding the one outstanding example of each, then breeding that until he was certain it was stable. “I don’t lay claim to any particular strains,” he says modestly, knowing that if a number of breeders who wish to remain anonymous for reasons of personal safety wanted to talk, he’d be given credit for giving them the seeds from his select plants which were the basis for, among other things, elements in Skunk #1, the first successful indica/sativa hybrid and one of the mothers of the entire genetic pool as we know it today.
While the seeds from his select plants were given to other breeders to work with, hundreds of thousands of seeds were just given away for people to grow. “I thought the way to revolutionize pot growing was to give people seeds. People said I was crazy to give them away but I never felt crazy.”
By 1974, at a time when people were still laughing at green pot and most homegrown was all leaf, Frank had been convinced by Ed Rosenthal to write the book he’d asked to do in 1970, and the team of Frank and Rosenthal published the Indoor Outdoor Highest Quality Marijuana Grower’s Guide (Level Press). With its beautiful photography and information Frank and Rosenthal had learned from studying not only Frank’s plants, but those of every grower they could, the book officially marked the beginning of the grow-your-own era.
The book, which stayed in print for a dozen years, was successful enough to give both authors the financial breathing room and credentials to travel around the country to visit with other breeders. Mel began taking photographs of cannabis through a microscope as well, innovating a photo-microscopic lighting technique that brought out the beauty of glands and tricombs. “Ed and I tried to study the resin glands because we knew that’s where most of the cannabinoids were being synthesized. It was more information we were collecting on this plant. And for breeding, the more I knew, the better I was able to select the plants I wanted to breed.”
The results of their travels and studies were published in the 1978 Marijuana Grower’s Guide, which has sold over a million copies, remains a grower’s bible, and is the only grow book ever reviewed by the New York Times Book Review, which noted, in part that “When marijuana becomes legal this will become a textbook for a common weed.”
Frank has since published the Marijuana Grower’s Insider’s Guide, which he wrote alone, and operates the RedEye Press.
“You know,” says Frank. “As a breeder the thing I think we’re losing a little of is the differences in the plants. Each original strain, whether it’s Durban Poison, or Chiba or Jamaican, or Thai or Afghani, has so many special qualities. It’s got its own high, its own taste, feel, color, smell, the way it grows, the way it burns. I think sometimes with grower’s concentrating so much on potency, which brings the money, they hybrid out so many of those interesting characteristics.”

Ed Rosenthal: The Guru of Ganga
Without Ed Rosenthal’s persistence, Mel Frank might never have been drawn into co-writing their first book, nevermind the second, and if that hadn’t happened, who knows where we’d be. But Ed was also one of the people who brainstormed the idea of High Times magazine with its founder, Tom Forcade.
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Ed Rosenthal says he was on the fast track to a middle-management position in the work-a-day world when he was inspired by the great folksinger Pete Seeger to change his life. “His songs and the life he led showed me there was another way to live your life. You didn’t have to be part of the establishment. So I changed directions.”
He’d smoked his first joint in 1965, and by 1970, when Mel Frank was publishing his first how-to-grow-pot article he was a Yippie in his blood and a local expert on marijuana. “The editors over at the New York Flyer section of Rolling Stone asked me to look Mel’s article over, to see if there were any mistakes. Then they asked if I’d like to meet the writer, and I said sure, so that’s how Mel Frank and I met.”
By 1974, just prior to the publication of their first book, Ed was splitting time between living in California—where he’d moved after reading The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test—and New York. In California he was involved with the marijuana scene on many levels. In New York he stayed at the 11th Street home of the Underground Press Syndicate, headed by Yippie and veteran underground journalist Tom Forcade.
“In terms of the creation of High Times, what happened was that I met a fellow who had done a thesis on the rise in sales of cigarette papers nationwide, figures from which he was able to extrapolate how much more pot was being smoked in 1970 than had been smoked in 1960. So I started playing with the idea of how many pot smokers were really out there, and myself, Forcade and another fellow—let’s leave him anonymous because of his current well-respected job—decided to publish a media journal that would go to other media, a kind of marijuana news service. In thinking about it we wondered where our ads would come from. Well, I was familiar with the National Fashion and Boutique Show, where all the paraphernalia was sold, and so we decided to go after the paraphernalia people as our ad base.
“By then we were thinking about a real magazine, rather than a media-journal, and so one day the three of us sat down and just started writing down article titles. Just a list: Pot in Russia; I Smoked Dope with the Pope; Dope in Colombia. We wrote down about 100 and decided that they would be the contents of our magazine. And those titles became the first year’s content’s of HT.
“Unfortunately, a government infiltrator—there were a lot of those at that time—got Tom Forcade’s ear and convinced him that he didn’t need me and the other fellow, so we were out and Tom did High Times without us. It wasn’t until a few years later that Forcade realized he’d been manipulated and rectified it by paying me in free advertising in the magazine for my imput.”
Ed’s influence on the cannabis scene was only just beginning. He worked tirelessly as an activist, writer, photographer, products developer and later as a publisher. The Marijuana Grower’s Guide was well on its way to it’s million sales mark when Rosenthal began to write the Ask Ed column for High Times magazine in 1984, which answered readers’ questions about the marijuana they were growing. The monthly column—which he supplemented with at least one story about a garden per month—was one of the backbones of the magazine for 15 years and kept him not only at the top of the marijuana grow-writer’s heirarchy, but kept him informed of every new development in cannabis horticulture. He was the first to bring rockwool to the US from Europe as a planting medium, and he introduced hydroponics and a dozen other techniques to the majority of US and Canadian growers via High Times and his other regular column in Sinsemilla Tips, the great grow magazine put out during the 1980s by Tom Alexander.
Over the years, Rosenthal has been intimately involved in every aspect of marijuana culture and on the front-line of most. He was a force behind California’s Medical-Marijuana initiative and later was deputized by the City of Oakland with the job of distribution of cannabis to medical marijuana patients throughout the city. He was arrested for growing marijuana by the Feds in 2002, and at his trial he was not permitted to defend himself on the grounds that he was growing it at the city’s behest. In late 2003 he was convicted but given just one day of jail time. He has appealed that conviction and the case is currently in process.
He’s written more than a dozen important books, including the first two with Mel Frank and then, on his own, The Closet Cultivator, The Big Book of Buds, The Marijuana Growers Handbook and The Indoor High Yield Guide among others. He’s also written policy books, including Why Marijuana Should Be Legal, which he co-authored with Steve Kubby.
His credits are almost endless: he writes regularly for both Heads and Cannabis Culture, he runs the Quick Trading publishing house, he’s even developing a line of marijuana fertilizers that will be in stores by the time this magazine hits the stands. In short, he has been helping people grow better marijuana for 30 years.
“Look,” he says, explaining it all. “Years ago the Yippies put out a communique from their Lower East Side New York Food and Drug Administration—an administration whose job it was to provide food for the hungry and better drugs for all. The communique noted that a grant was being set up to send people back to farms to develop better food and drugs for everyone. I was one of the researchers of that project. The project is ongoing, and I am still functioning under its mandate.”

High Times: Voice of the Counterculture
In 1974, the counterculture was under heavy attack from the establishment. Long gone were the days of hippies with flowers in their hair, the innocence of the movement killed off by too much police brutality at too many anti-war rallies, by the killings at Kent State and by COINTELPRO operations by the government. It was the same year in which veteran Underground Press journalist, notorious pot smuggler and Yippie Tom Forcade decided to launch a one shot publishing strike at the establishment called High Times Magazine. Brainstormed by Forcade and Ed Rosenthal and another yippie, the magazine was intended to mock everything the suits saw as glamorous.
In the Fall of 1974, to all the media fanfare the yippies could summon in New York in those days—which was considerable—the magazine was unveiled. Designed by Karen Limroth to be an anti-Playboy Playboy the silver cover stock showed a beautiful hippie girl in profile, about to sensously eat a magic mushroom. It’s centerfold was a beautiful bud of marijuana rather than a naked girl. It’s articles discussed hemp paper, cannabis a both medicine and spiritual aid, and its politics said the hell with the establishment.
To the surprise of Forcade and everyone else associated with the elaborate spoof, it sold out in a matter of days and had to be reprinted. When that sold out as well, Forcade realized that he had touched a nerve among a segment of the population, that he had given a new voice to a counterculture badly in need of focus.
The second issue of High Times came out three months later and immediately established the direction in which Forcade intended to take it by having articles on the best pot-smuggling aircraft, the finest hashish and how to get it past customs, news related to marijuana and psychedelics and a listing of pot prices from around the US. Within a year it had become a monthly with a circulation of over 300.000. It was as in-your-face to the government as possible, exposing US backing of brutal cocaine dictatorships in Bolivia and corrupt politicians in the States. It covered the environment and high-style living among smugglers, carried articles about the benefits of magic mushrooms and pictures of California pot crops and how to grow them.
In 1979, the magazine went into turmoil when Forcade shot and killed himself—although many in the know at the time claim it was an assassination. Cocaine had become fashionable by that time and the magazine ran a number of covers over the next several years that looked as if it glorified the drug’s use. The news and investigations remained solid, the fiction by people like Charles Bukowski was great, and the coverage of cocaine was actually quite negative, but the centerfolds of kilos of glistening white powder nearly did the magazine in. It wasn’t until Steve Hager was hired in 1984 that the cocaine disappeared from the magazine completely, and the focus was re-aimed at a grow-your-own pot revolution. Ed Rosenthal began his monthly Ask Ed column and writers like R and The Connoisseur shared their growing secrets.
By 1986, Hager had the magazine back firmly on its feet, devoted to the counterculture in music, politics, pot growing, environmental issues and activism. Along with Sinsemilla Tips, it was the place you went monthly to get your fix of marijuana grow info, legal news and anti-establishment political views. For years, after Sinsemilla Tips stopped publishing, it was the only place. It pushed the medical marijuana issue into the mainstream, and later hemp, and forfeiture law reform and mandatory sentencing. It gave voice to the counterculture.
“High Times,” says Mel Frank, “was absolutely vital to the movement. I don’t know where the movement would have gone without it. It brought pride back to being a member of the counterculture.”

Sacred Seeds: The Marriage of Indica and Sativa
From a cannabis breeding plant point of view, the single most important plant on the planet is the Skunk #1. It was developed in part using Mel Frank’s pure-strain seeds, by a brilliant California breeder who prefers anonymity to fame. Skunk #1, the first successful hybrid of indica with sativa, includes Afghani indica with Colombian Gold sativa, Mexican sativa and according to Ed Rosenthal, “I think there is some Thai in there as well. I’ve heard the breeder say different things at different times. It wasn’t just a simple cross by any means.”
The plant, says Rosenthal, “absolutely revolutionized growing. It was revolutionary because it was a controlled plant. The height was controlled, it was stable, it was potent, it came in in a shorter time than other plants and it loved to grow.”
Another breeder commented simply: This is the standard against which others are measured.”
Skunk #1 became the basis for the Sacred Seeds catalogue, the first seed company in the world. The plant made its way to Amsterdam some years later, where it became one of the parents of the Dutch grow scene. It remains a vital part of Dutch breeding.
The anonymous breeders of Sacred Seeds eventuallly moved to Holland, where they continued their brilliant careers under another name, and they are currently involved with the breeding of cannabis for use in medical marijuana medicines.
Two other vital breeders in the US need mention here: The mysterious Haze brothers from Monterrey, California, and midwesterner, DJ Short.
The Haze brothers produced Haze #1. The plant was originally developed in Hawaii, but was finished in California. Ed Rosenthal puts its value as a strain very high up the list. “It has been used in so many other varieties, particularly outdoor long season varieties.” But it was also adapted to the indoor life and eventually, though to a lesser extent, like Skunk #1, it became one of the parents of the Dutch grow movement. The Haze brothers operated Cultivator’s Choice, the second seed company to open, and their genetics have been part of dozens of important strains over the past 20 years.
DJ Short, a clean-cut altar-boy if ever there was one, has been one of the most important breeders in the US for more than 20 years. His most famous claim to fame is the Blueberry strain, that amazingly rich and fruity high that has found its way into several other important strains. DJ Short has been publishing with Cannabis Culture for several years, and his book Cultivating Exceptional Cannabis: An Expert Breeder Shares His Secrets details cultivation and breeding for exceptional quality and taste.

Sinsemilla Tips: The Northwest Bible
Of all the magazines that ever were published that related to cannabis and cannabis cultivation, the only one that ever scared High Times was Sinsemilla Tips, a testament to the quality of the material being published by Tom Alexander out of Corvallis, Oregon. Alexander and his wife Nancy wound up in Corvallis while on a slow migration to New Zealand in 1976. There he took a job taking care of a 1,600-plant plot for some well-to-do growers. He tended the plants, eliminated the males, brought in the females at harvest, manicured the buds and took his 10%. The following year he planted his own 2000-plant farm, only to have the local police seize it just before harvest. He and his wife got off on search-warrant irregularities, but the buds he grew made it to the streets of Corvallis shortly thereafter, and while the corrupt police took the profits, it was Alexander who found himself being credited with the grow.
With no job or funds, the Alexanders decided to sell their considerable supply of left-over bat guano, which they sold via local bulletin boards. They made enough to buy a typewriter and Tom put together the first issue of Sinsemilla Tips, covering how to tell males from females, how to set up a drip-irrigation system, when to transplant seedlings, and an ad for bat guano. The magazine took off overnight; in three years the ad for bat guano had Tom running Full Moon Farm Products, the largest grow-store in Oregon.
Sinsemilla Tips was published for 10 years, with a roster of grow writers that included Ed Rosenthal, Jorge Cervantes, The Bush Doctor, The Farmer in the Sky (a great grower who espoused what’s now called the Sea of Green method of growing and who in the early 1990s was unfortunately pushed into letting the feds photograph clients in his store after being busted), Dr. Hydro, Chief Seven Turtles and a host of other equally well-known grow authors. It covered politics—particularly in the northwest, where legions of narcs were running through Humbolt and southern Oregon every harvest season, and where, by the early 1980s rip-offs of large grows had reached the point where both growers and thieves were being killed monthly. It’s scope wasn’t nearly as broad as was High Times’, but what it did it did very well, and it was taken very seriously by growers throughout the US and southern Canada. And its emergence at a time when High Times was not devoting a significant number of pages to grow filled a void for tens of thousands of growers thirsting for cutting edge quality information.
Sinsemilla Tips stopped publication in 1990, when the DEA’s Operation Green Merchant seized the inventory in Tom Alexander’s store, and stores nationwide, leaving him no advertising base. Asked at the time why he didn’t try to continue to publish despite no advertising, Alexander told this reporter: “There’s ten years worth of articles out there for growers. That should be enough to grow some marijuana, don’t you think?”
These days Alexander runs the very well respected, non-marijuana oriented hydroponic gardening magazine, The Growing Edge.

Jorge Cervantes: The Man Indoors
Born and bred on the West Coast of Spanish decent, Jorge worked around gardens his whole life, but didn’t start growing cannabis until 1976. While that seems late in the game for anyone included here, the fact was that outdoor pot remained 95% of what was available well into the 1980’s. “I grew a lot in southern California,” he told Heads recently. “I always grew good pot but I didn’t have any good genetics until one year I was able to get my hands on some skunk seeds. Now that was great.”
Trying to cultivate led Cervantes to move into green houses and then indoors, under flourescents, an experiment he describes as a disaster. “We had over one hundered four-foot flourescents going one time!”
He once even tried to grow in Central America but his seeds all rotted. “So I came back to the US and saw an ad in High Times for indoor lights. I’d seen some indoor gardens, but even with the good ones there was so little information that I didn’t think people knew what they were doing. I’d ask them why the light hoods were four feet wide and cone-shaped and get answers like, ‘If you don’t know we won’t tell you.’ Took me months to get someone to finally tell me: ‘That’s how wide the metal is when we buy it.’ That’s when I decided to put the information together and write a book.”
Jorge’s book, Indoor Marijuana Horticulture, was a 96-page 5-by-8 self-published black-and-white manual with a two-color cover that came out in 1983. It wasn’t the first indoor grow book—that was by Murphy Stephens, a few years earlier—but it quickly became the tool which allowed indoor gardening to flourish. The second year of its publication it grew to 250-pages and included lots of good photos and sold over 20.000 copies.
His importance is made clear by Mel Frank, who says, “Jorge Cervantes was responsible for bringing out the importance of High Intensity Discharge lamps. His book really made indoor growing a commercial possiblity. It led you to think of controlling all of the elements of your growing environment. It simply changed the way commercial marijuana was produced.”
Cervantes Indoor Marijuana Horticulture has been regularly updated with the latest information and translated into Dutch, German, French and Spanish. He has also published a number of other important books, including the indoor Five Easy Gardens, and the ourdoor Guerilla Growing. Five years ago he replaced Ed Rosenthal as the High Times grow guru with his Jorge’s RX, and also runs the website.


The Innovators, Part 2: Marc Emery, Robert Randall,Dennis Peron, Steven Hager and the Dutch Revolution: Nevil Shoenmakers, Wernard, Ben Dronkers

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