Ed Rosenthal is a legend in cannabis known for bucking the rules. The longtime cultivation author went up against the feds for providing marijuana to medical patients in 2003 and was ultimately sentenced to a single day in prison, time served. Rosenthal’s devoted his life promoting cannabis—he’s responsible for proliferating the classic South African landrace Durban Poison, partnered with at least 50 European seed companies for multiple books in his Big Book of Buds series, and even has a cultivar, Ed Rosenthal Super Bud, named after him—but he’s never released his own genetics. That is, until now. Back in April, the DEA quietly acknowledged that cannabis seeds are legal. Rosenthal began releasing seed packs alongside his books in May. Since then, rapper and Cookies clothing mogul Berner has also embraced the idea, offering seed packs along with his recent From Seed to Sale album release.
The DEA’s reasoning behind the affirmation that cannabis seeds are legal in the U.S. had to do with the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp, defining and separating it from the pot we smoke as Cannabis sativa with less than .03% delta-9 THC. When questioned about the legality of seeds, tissue culture, and “other genetic material” the agency response was that marihuana (yes, they still spell it like that) seeds that contain less than .03% delta-9 THC meet the definition of hemp and are therefore, not a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act.
Sprouting the Seed: Reviving & Distributing Genetics
While speaking in his tropical sunroom filled with the lush multicolored tie-dye like leaves of caladiums and yellow and pink ombre neon hued plumeria blossoms on an overcast December day, Rosenthal explains about how the idea to distribute cannabis seeds as a free bonus with his most recent book began. We’re longtime friends and co-collaborators on a number of projects including the 2022 release of the Cannabis Grower’s Handbook, and I start off our conversation/smoke session by asking about a story he once told me of selling seeds in the Bronx as a child.
“I lived in a residential area and there were people with yards with different plants—a lot of annuals, things like marigold, zinnias—and I would go and collect the seeds from plants when they didn’t clip the flowers off and then I made them into packs,” he says. “It was a place where loads of people went out and hung out on benches and everything and I would sell them the seeds, for which they had no use because they were living in apartments but (laughs).”
Now in his late 70s, Rosenthal was just 8 years old at the time and even received an unofficial certificate for his seed business which, believe it or not, was called Homegrown Seed Company. This was the beginning of a longtime career promoting plant cultivation. He co-founded High Times Magazine in 1974 and the 1978 New York Times review of the Marijuana Grower’s Guide he co-authored with Mel Frank catapulted his publishing career. Through all these years of smoking tough he’s settled on one cultivar that’s arguably his favorite strain, J-27. Back in California’s medical marijuana era, growers needed patients to up their plant counts and one in particular found a number of them amongst the employees of Rosenthal’s publishing company. This grower would deliver ounces, but never the cut. Within the last year, he finally acquired the sole J-27 plant, which he describes as a “treat” with a similar terpene profile to Wedding Cake.
“I gave it to two good breeders, but they were so frustrated by it that they gave it back and I had the only plant,” he says. “And I said, ‘You know what? I’m exactly the wrong person to be doing this because I’m too much of a slacker.’”
To revive the almost lost cultivar he partnered with Humboldt Seed Company and hopes to release hybrid J-27 seeds by 2023.
“They’ve had a hard time with the plant because it’s a cut from the cut, from the cut from 20 years ago,” Rosenthal explains. “The plant is saying, ‘Oh please let me die.’ But they did coax a few clones from it and they have the same problems, but now that they have clones they can breed it.”
His own homegrown seed promotion, which Rosenthal has coined the “Million Marijuana Seed Giveaway,” started with a female Jack Herer crossed with “two males, that were vigorous and early,” from Humboldt Seed Company, Very Cherry and Blueberry Muffin, to create Double Dipper.
“As far as the Million Marijuana Seed Giveaway, all of the crosses are really good crosses and they’re hybrids,” he says. “They’re not F1 hybrids [first generation], but they’re F2 hybrids. The next [generation] they sort of sort out and you get a lot of variation. So there’s going to be variation in these plants and then a grower can choose which plants he or she would like to continue with.”
When Rosenthal grew some of his seeds for his own backyard phenohunt this past summer, he did so in a style that allows for more buds and less vegetation. Using light deprivation techniques he brought the plants into flower early, which produced single stalks of long buds. This method allowed him to grow many plants close together. It also enabled the plants to grow more efficiently, using their carbon dioxide resources to grow buds, as opposed to leaves and branches. This method is also economical as the reduced amount of time spent in vegetation gives indoor and greenhouse growers enough time for an extra harvest, he explains.
Prisoners of Weed Packs
Rosenthal’s wife and publishing partner Jane Klein says the seed strategy has worked in terms of boosting book sales. Each seed drop, of which there have been four thus far, averages about 400 packs containing 10 seeds each. In the sale of the “Prisoners of Weed” packs, 10% of each sale is given to the Last Prisoner Project, an organization which advocates to free those incarcerated for marijuana convictions.
“So many people who are getting the seeds to grow, but also as a collection, already had the books, so then we created the grow tips booklet,” Klein says of a short booklet that includes two seed packs with purchase.
The booklet has a QR code that will send people to an expanding library of material.
“We definitely were inspired by the DEA,” Klein says of the book bundle/seed promotion in relation to the April 2022 DEA letter. “I like it that they were saying that seeds don’t fall under the Controlled Substances Act so now we have the whole conversation of should [cannabis] be rescheduled or descheduled? Why should it be even included in the Controlled Substances Act?”
Seeds vs. Clones
In this new legal space for seeds Rosenthal predicts a future where they go down in price, leading more growers to choose seeds over clones.
“Let’s say that you have a variety that’s very uniform, there’s a lot of advantages of starting from seed,” he explains. “There’s a lot less of a chance of infection because many viruses don’t transfer to the seed so that’s one thing. Another thing is that they’re easy to store, transport, and things like that. Seeds will wait, but clones won’t.”
He takes his prediction further stating that as the genetics of cannabis seeds get more uniform we might see people offering germinated seeds, or seedlings, in the same way that tomato seedlings are sold at nurseries.
Rebellious entrepreneurs like Rosenthal and Klein will surely keep pushing the boundaries of where cannabis seeds might pop up next. Watch for where that might be; growing your own weed in 2023 makes for a great New Year’s resolution.
“I think another interesting thing with the DEA ruling is [thinking about] will more hydro stores start to sell seeds?” Klein says. “This would definitely be a new product that wouldn’t take up a lot of shelf space for them and would inspire people to come into the store and maybe buy other things.”