From the Archives: Adventures in the Cannabis Trade (1999)

By Ed Rosenthal

Since my early youth I had dreamed of becoming a writer and plant scientist. However, during high school and college I was drawn to other matters and studied in a totally different area. Somehow, my natural inclinations broke through. My work as a writer for HIGH TIMES has helped me live a fantasy. I have visited gardens and farms on five continents, and been given the opportunity to experience some interesting, unusual and even extraordinary places.


I visited India in the fall and winter of 1979, when marijuana was still legal there. It was taxed by the government and sold in shops. While traveling on a train through the centrally located state of Madya Pradesh, I noticed fields of ganja. I received permission from authorities in Bhiratpur, the state capital, to visit the fields, located in Khandwa. I arrived in mid-December, just in time for the harvest.

The plants were late-maturing sativas, eight to 10 feet high. I saw several 5 to 10-acre fields. They were all seeded and ripe. They were cut down by hand with machetes, and were brought to the preparation area by animal-drawn cart. Then a circle of women stripped them of all leaf and bud.

During the day the plants were left to dry in piles about 8″ high. At night the piles were covered with large stones. The next day buds were pulled out of the pile. The leaves had desiccated and the buds were tighter. These buds were placed in a pile and again selected the next morning. Within three days the buds turned from green to brown as a result of anaerobic decomposition. All the leaves crumbled and most of the outside glands had rubbed off. Inside some of the THC had degraded to cannibinol. There was a purpose to this. These buds were tight and held the THC that was left inside. Uncured bud, such as what we had collected, could not be shipped easily and would be shake by the time it got to market.

Our hosts were very gracious. My companion and I were allowed to pick some choice buds, which dried quickly in the oppressive heat. This uncured bud was some of the best weed we encountered on our trip; perhaps some of the best ganja in that part of the country.

One morning, while we were staying at the government-run “Circuit House,” we heard a knock at the door and the knob turned. One of the taxmen, a government agent, walked in to give us a big handful of ganja. This was the first and last time that a G-man ever invaded my premises to give me cannabis.

This story is now history. Marijuana was outlawed in India in 1986, as required by the Single Convention on Drugs and Narcotic Substances.

A Tale of Two Gardens

In 1989 I followed two growers in a seven-part series. Sharky was a commercial grower with quite a few lamps, while Liz grew in a 4’ x 4’ space in her closet using a single 400 or 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium unit. The articles followed their entire operations from cloning to harvest, including changes they made over a 10-month period.

Sharky used rockwool slabs irrigated with a drip system. He used General Hydroponics liquid fertilizers and irrigated once every other day or daily depending on the moisture in the slabs. Liz used a reservoir system with lava chips about 3/4″ long. The 6″ wide containers sat in a tray 5″ high. The tray was filled to a level of about 3″ with water-nutrient solution. She used a small aquarium heater and an air-pump bubbler to keep the water aerated. She originally used Applied Hydro fertilizers.

Both gardens achieved about the same yield, a little more than one pound per 1,000-watt lamp.


I was invited to the Nimbin, (New South Wales) Australia Mardi Gras Festival held in early May, the end of the fall harvest. The event was a wild affair and media event. This festival is the highlight of the year in the small but very sophisticated town, which has several good restaurants and quite a cultural life, mostly homemade. This is very exciting because so many of the people are in the arts.

Nimbin was a dairy town, all but abandoned until a Woodstock-like celebration took place nearby in the early 70s. Some of the hippies never left and slowly revitalized the community as a hippie haven.

Afterwards, I went to visit several gardens. All of them were unusual. One garden consisted of a single bushy plant about 17 feet tall. It was growing next to a gas water heater and received enriched air. Its roots were in manure-enriched soil. Another garden featured a “portable” metal building that rolled on a track. When the law flew overhead the building covered the plants. Other times the plants were in full sun.

The most exciting part of the trip was my visit to a series of patches going downhill through a national wilderness park. The gardener chose places so remote that he reasoned it just wasn’t worth it for the police to seize the plots. Each plot contained 10-20 plants growing in partial sun. The varieties had a lot of Thai and Dutch genetics. I was enticed on the trip with his comforting words that it was “almost all downhill.” I forgot to ask. “How steep?”


I have been reporting on Holland since the mid-’80s. This included stories on the first Cannabis Cup, the coffeeshops, the Seed Bank. Wernard, greenhouse harvests and many other gardens. Over the years I reported as the industry started, grew, matured and finally now has been repressed by the Dutch government.

Recent taws have changed the lax attitude there. All cultivation under lights is now considered commercial. Ironic, since it’s nearly impossible to grow potent pot outdoors in the cool, overcast country. Growers are subject to four years in prison. Seed production is now illegal. I hope the government doesn’t think of forfeiture.


I investigated the hemp scene in Hungary in 1991 and 1993, and English hemp just after that. Soon after, Holland’s Ben Dronkers started Hemp-Flax and extended initial research from the Ede-Wagonen Research Center to the fields. It was exciting watching the rebirth of the industry.

Visiting the Hungarian fields and factories was like stepping back 50 years. The fields were cultivated with ancient machines and the factories were dusty and unhealthy, with inefficient and dangerous prewar machinery. Hempcore, which was started by a farm-supply company, was the first to restart the industry in England. The Dutch industry started at Ede-Wagonen, the experimental station. Even though the industry looked promising, few farmers were interested in it. Ben Dronkers, proprietor of Sensi-Seed and other grass-centered enterprises has invested heavily, gambling on the paper potential of the new industry.

High Times Magazine, November 1999

Read the full issue here.

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