27 August 2013

INTERVIEW / Jonah Raskin : The Quest of Cannabis King Jorge Cervantes

Jorge Cervantes with some of his queenly Cannabis plants. Photos special to The Rag Blog.
An Interview with Jorge Cervantes:
The king of marijuana cultivators and
his quest for the 'Queens of Cannabis'
Marijuana will keep its underground character for a while, but it will eventually become legal. The wind is blowing in that direction. Politicians like to be on the winning side and cannabis is slowly winning.
By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / August 27, 2013

Call him the counterculture godfather of cannabis cultivation. He’s the go-to guy who can tell you -- in nearly every media, new and old -- when to plant a crop, when to harvest it and what to do in-between. His YouTube channel -- has had nearly 5 million hits since it started in 2010.

Or, better yet, just call him Mr. God. He’s the author of the best-selling bible on both indoor and outdoor marijuana cultivation first published in 1983, and with hundreds of thousands of copies in print. Unlike God, who rested on the seventh day, Jorge Cervantes hardly takes a day off. Over the last five years he’s worked -- with time out for a joint or two -- on a new book that offers nearly all the cannabis information you could want. Out January 2014, it’s entitled Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower's Bible and it’s a labor of love.

An editor, publisher, photographer, researcher, and the writer of all his books, Jorge Cervantes, 59 years old, was born George Van Patten in Ontario, Oregon, near the Idaho border. (His alias is hardy a secret. Jorge is George in Spanish. Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, is his favorite writer.)

George smoked his first joint -- rolled from “dirt weed,” he says -- in 1968, when Mexican pounds sold for $100. Not long afterwards, George morphed into Jorge. Ever since then, his journey has taken him to California and to Spain, where he lives much of the year, writing, making videos, and appearing at cannabis fairs where he’s become an iconic figure, nearly as recognizable as Don Quixote himself.

Jorge Cervantes wasn’t the first cannabis aficionado to write how-to-books for cultivators. Mel Frank and Ed Rosenthal preceded him. Their Marijuana Grower’s Guide, first published in 1980, became perhaps the most popular how-to-grow-sinsemilla book during the Reagan era War on Drugs.

Cervantes quickly caught up -- and along the way never got arrested. No one in the global cannabis world is more visible than he, and yet no icon in the cannabis world is more invisible. Like Frank and Rosenthal, he’s been a long-time High Times columnist and as devoted a HT reader as anyone around.

“He’s tenacious,” HT editor Chris Simunek says. “He’s a real horticulturist who loves all kinds of plants.” Cervantes began the interview by speaking in Spanish, then changed to English. He’s fluent in both languages.

Jonah Raskin: What’s it like there now in Barcelona?

Jorge Cervantes: It’s raining buckets of water and as they say, rain makes the flowers grow.

In Spain is there a shift from hash to cannabis?

It took a long time before cannabis became popular in Spain. We‘re across the Straits of Gibraltar and Moroccan hash is relatively inexpensive and abundant here. Domestically grown cannabis has come down in price; it’s nearly the same as hash. Now, in Spain, people are cultivating cannabis for less money than it takes to buy hash. There’s also so much cannabis here that people are making hash and concentrated oils.

In my part of California, growers are "sitting on” their medicine. What’s the supply/demand story in your world?

Unemployment in Spain is 27%. The number is double for those under 30. Growing cannabis is a way to survive. Few Spanish growers have the luxury of holding out for a higher price. Moreover, the 27 countries in the European Union provide a large market. The price of cannabis will remain less volatile than in the U.S where growers produce much more than can be consumed and where oversupply drives down the price. In Europe, the cost of production and transportation have remained surprisingly stable.

In what ways have the Spanish learned from U.S. farmers?

Spanish growers have taken information from the best cannabis cultivators in the world. They’re adapting it to their conditions. Then, too, over the last 20 years, growers from all over Europe, especially the Netherlands, have moved to Spain. American and Canadian cannabis companies have a major presence through huge trade fairs (www.cannabis.com, www.growmed.es, www.expocannabis.com, and www.expogrow.net). They’re the biggest in the world.

Some guerrilla growers in the States go into forests and damage the environment. What’s the Spanish awareness about the environment?

Until Spain entered the EU, their track record on environmental responsibility was low. Today attitude has improved. Guerilla growers tend to be messy, but most of them remove trash because it attracts unwanted attention.

Are growers growing organically? Do companies make soil mixes and "teas"?

Organic gardening is around but it is not as developed as it is in the U.S or Germany. There’s a basic knowledge about composting and growers use compost teas. But, I have not seen activated aerated compost teas (AACT) in use. The U.S. is more innovative in this respect, but the technology is moving to Spain. I recently gave two lectures at GrowMed in Valencia where I talked about AACT. Growers want to try it.

Has greed crept into the cannabis culture in Spain? Have Spaniards becoming wealthy, as has happened in California?

When money is involved there’s bound to be greed. But greed and getting rich don’t drive the bulk of Spanish growers. Most start off wanting to grow their own cannabis so that they don’t have to buy it. Some overproduce. When they do, they give to friends or make hash for personal consumption.

What about cannabis clubs?

They started to surface a few years ago. Their location is not advertised and they’re behind secure doors. Members are charged a modest annual fee. When they belong they can purchase small amounts of cannabis. But the legality of the clubs is up in the air and so the situation is unstable.

Spain has come a long way since the days of the dictator, Franco, hasn’t it?

The funny thing about Spain under Franco is that hashish was a common commodity. Many soldiers and fishermen, too, smoked it. Smuggling hash into the country was commonplace. I smoked it in Spain when Franco was still alive. In fact, the military controlled many of the hash smuggling operations.

In the 1980s, I remember people smoking joints in Spanish resort towns. During the 1990s, when there were squats around Barcelona, everybody smoked Moroccan hash. Today, the biggest cannabis fairs in the world are in Spain. Spannabis in Barcelona is by far the biggest of all. Spain is a natural for cannabis: sunny, relatively inexpensive and tolerated when cultivation is on a small scale.

So, the police are not a heavy presence?

In Spain there is a big respect for personal space and individual sovereignty. The police don’t have the same kinds of power in Spain they do in the States. They’re not real heavy or overbearing. They would not, for example, stop someone and search a backpack.

Why do you think the DEA is so against cannabis?

I think they want to keep their jobs and get paid. They also really believe it’s bad for you.

Are doctors recommending or prescribing cannabis?

Spain legalized medical cannabis in 2006. The province of Cataluña -- where I live -- also legalized distribution through pharmacies, but the current financial crisis has prevented the creation of a distribution network.

At the recent GrowMed Fair in Valencia, several doctors talked about the medical benefits. They prescribe it for many ailments. Several medical studies have been completed in Spain, including Dr. Guzman’s 2000 “Pot Shrinks Tumors,” and there’s an organization, Fundación CANNA, that studies the medical properties of cannabis.

Are there regions where there’s more of it grown? Are there urban gardens?

More cannabis is grown in the Basque country, Cataluña, and on the Mediterranean Coast than in the interior. But other regions are growing their fair share of cannabis, so much so that cannabis theft is a problem. Outdoor cultivation is bigger than indoor cultivation. Greenhouse cultivation is also popular. In Galicia, where it rains more in than in Seattle, growing outdoors is difficult. Growing in a greenhouse works well there and hydroponic stores have opened.

The magazine, Soft Secrets, published in seven languages, is the biggest in Europe and is widely read by indoor and outdoor growers. All editions, except for the Spanish one, show a country flag on top of the front page. Spain is a group of distinct zones. We speak five different languages: Gallego, Basco, Catalan, Asturiano, and Castellano (Spanish) and every region differs geographically, climatically, and culturally.

If you walk around Barcelona in the summertime, cannabis growing on balconies is a relatively common sight. Indoor urban gardens are also commonplace. They’re generally small because of the limited space and electrical service.

In California, there are neighborhoods where you smell cannabis at harvest because there’s so much of it. Is it similar in Spain?

Yes! It’s a problem! But a bigger one is rogue male pollen in the air. Many people grow from seed here and male plants are common. I have attended neighborhood meetings where residents bring photos of male plants and ask neighbors to pull them. Fragrance is a problem only with large stands of cannabis outdoors, which is not common.

What is the legal status of cannabis in Spain?

It’s legal to grow for personal consumption and it isn’t a crime to consume cannabis. But the legal situation is still unclear because the law is interpreted differently and enforced inconsistently. Of course, it’s illegal to sell cannabis, but the clubs are all doing it. In the Basque and Cataluña, laws appear to be more lax.

Are there “stoners" In Spain?

In Spain there never was a “stoner hippie” stereotype. But in Spanish there’s lots of cannabis slang. A stoner might be a “fumeta” in Spain or a “voludo” in Latin America, but those words are more common in South America. Spanish is a very rich language that lends itself to innovation. However, unlike English, cannabis terms evolve around describing an object or the effect of a substance.

Spain has a long history of hashish smoking so there’s a rich vocabulary to describe hash. “China’ is the word for a small piece of hash, “pedazo” the word for a larger piece of hash, and “taco” for a still larger piece of hash.

I like the notion that we ought not to separate and distinguish between the "recreational" user and the "medicinal" user. What thought do you have about that?

I believe that recreational users can be classified as medicinal users. Consuming cannabis lowers pressure in the body. It’s relaxing and therapeutic.

How is the Spanish cannabis world different than Holland?

For one thing, we have five big cannabis fairs and the Dutch have just one, the Cannabis Cup. We have sunshine and they have rain. The Dutch coffee shop industry has ground to a halt. We have more than 200 cannabis clubs and the number is growing rapidly.

In Holland, as in Spain, a right-wing government is in power. Here, unemployment is high and the government is scrambling to solve social problems. Here, people are thrown out of their homes if they can’t pay the mortgage, and that’s a bigger issue than cannabis.

Where I live in California there are at least three generations of cannabis smokers -- people from 15 to 75. What is the generational picture in Spain?

I have a couple of friends that grew up growing cannabis. They have baby photos in which they’re watering cannabis. Industrial hemp. Then in the late 1970s after Franco, the country had many rural areas that were abandoned. Some of these areas were planted with cannabis.

It depends upon age, one’s profession and geographic location here. Many young people consume cannabis, but it also depends on geography, profession, and actual age. It is common in the society as is reflected in the program Malviviendo. The YouTube series is hilarious! It reflects life today in Seville, Andalucía.

Is smoking the preferred method, or edibles, or tinctures?

Virtually everybody mixes tobacco with cannabis. The habit comes from mixing hashish with tobacco. Edibles and tinctures are few and far between, but concentrates are becoming popular

I think of California’s Proposition 215, the Compassionate Care Act of 1996 as a real game-changer. Do you?

Prop. 215 was huge, a breakthrough, and the momentum it unleashed is still building. It hasn’t come to a head yet. Before 215, people were afraid. They’re less afraid now, though they’re still anxious about paying fines, going to jail, losing their rights, having their name in the paper and being shamed. Those are all big penalties for someone who hasn’t stolen anything or hurt anyone. For the most part, it’s victimless crime. Throughout history, fear is the biggest controller. It works.

What do you hope will happen vis-a-vis cannabis in the next year or two?

I hope that the UN repeals the Single Convention Treaty of 1961 when they meet in Vienna, Austria, in March of 2014. The treaty, signed by member nations, classifies cannabis as having absolutely no medicinal use. The treaty lumps cannabis into the same group as heroin. Next, I think we’ll see more and more states in the U.S. adopt both medical and recreational cannabis laws.

A tipping point will be reached with about 30-35 states -- a situation similar to the repeal of prohibition. Scientific research on cannabis will also become popular. Wall Street will invest in the medicinal cannabis industry. Seed sales and information dissemination will continue on the Internet worldwide. Cannabis gardeners around the world will continue to plant more cannabis. It is virtually impossible to stop the life cycle of this ancient plant.

Marijuana will keep its underground character for a while, but it will eventually become legal. The wind is blowing in that direction. Politicians like to be on the winning side and cannabis is slowly winning.

You’ve had a long, close connection to HT haven’t you?

High Times is the first and longest-lived cannabis/drug magazine in the world. It’s had an amazing run; it has lived through drug czars, crackdowns, wild times and very serious times. High Times goes on and on! The High Times website is packed with the latest, vital information. The future is with the Internet. Of course, everyone at High Times knows this.

What’s in your future?

I´m finishing a new cultivation book. It’s been five years in the making and it’s twice as big as Marijuana Horticulture – with both text and images. It’ll be released January 1, 2014. My sites -- www.youtube.com/user/jorgecervantesmj and www.marijuanagrowing.com -- are growing very quickly and I continue to write for more than 20 magazines in 10 languages.

Hadn't you said everything that you wanted to say already?

No, not even close. There was so much left out of the “Bible” and so much has changed over the last seven years. For example, we now have much more information about ultraviolet light and its effect on plants. LED (Light Emitting Diode) lamps, HEP (High-Efficiency Plasma) lamps and Induction lamps were not covered in the bible.

What's new and different to say? 

The problem with the new book is there’s not enough paper to include all the new information. I had to cut many subjects down and refer readers to our website forum for more information. Cannabis is a never-ending subject and always changing. It’s universal and certainly one of the most fascinating plants on the face of the earth. Go to Google earth and you can see marijuana everywhere. It’s here to stay.

[Jonah Raskin, a frequent contributor to The Rag Blog, is a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University and the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War. Read more articles by Jonah Raskin on The Rag Blog.]

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