KID TESTED. MOTHER APPROVED.
STORY BY AND PHOTOS COURTESY OF TODD MCCORMICK
GETTING INTO CULTIVATING cannabis happened at an early age for me; I was only 13 years old when I first planted the seeds of the forbidden flower, and my life took a turn down a magical road of wonder and amazement filled with history, science, environmentalism, and blissful dreams under the influence of nature’s magical potion.
As a child I was diagnosed with histiocytosis X. I had a tumor in my spine at the age of two and would go on to battle cancer nine times in eight years between the ages of two and 10, the 10th time during my teens. I first started to use cannabis when I was only nine years old, with my mother’s supervision and courageousness, because in 1979 it was not socially acceptable to give your child marijuana under any circumstances whatsoever.
My mother was a hippie, and while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room reading a copy of Good Housekeeping, she read about cannabis being used to treat patients going through chemotherapy, which is what I was going through at the time. She decided, based on her own experiences with marijuana, to take the article’s advice and give her child– little old me––my first joint, and, in doing so, she helped alleviate the nausea I was immediately feeling due to the chemotherapy I was receiving. The marijuana helped stimulate my appetite that hadn’t existed during my chemotherapy sessions; I vividly recall my first request for food being spinach––you can tell that I was stoned.
Furthermore, the marijuana alleviated much of the depression that I was feeling going through cancer, as not much can be a bigger burden than the subtle reminder that we are all mortal. Without cannabis, facing the fact of passing away seemed quite depressing. But after I smoked my first joint, even at the age of nine, I believe that I began to look at life as more of a blessing than a burden, and I grew increasingly appreciative of my every breathe and every moment with the people I love.
Cannabis became my new best friend, as I was also suffering from a broken heart: One of my closest friends named Fred passed away while I was receiving treatment for a tumor in my left hip, which left me unable to walk. His passing was a stark reminder of how short life is, and, somehow, cannabis reminded me of the good times and the many smiles and hours of laughter we shared together as friends.
Since that time I have gone on to study cannabis passionately. My first book on the subject was appropriately titled A Child’s Garden Of Grass, and it humorously listed the only dangerous side effects of marijuana as “getting busted,” which in my opinion and experience has been more than true.
My second book on the subject was written by Ernest Able and titled: Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years. In that book I learned that cannabis was used to invent paper back in China, and that archaeologists have found evidence of cannabis hemp in fabrics dating back 12,000 years. If Able had written that book after 1997 he may have titled it: Marijuana: The First 24,000 Years, because archaeologists will follow to say what one is me We have now found evidence of hemp dating as far back as 24,000 BP (before present). I will never forget reading the introduction to this great book and my first reading of his example of the birth of a cannabis seed: “It sprouts from the earth not meekly, not cautiously in suspense of where it is and what it may find, but defiantly, arrogantly, confident that whatever the conditions it has the stamina to survive.” I very much wanted the confidence of that small seed and the capability to grow beyond my wildest dreams.
Ironically, growing cannabis gave me that freedom, and simply by growing cannabis a person saves money, because you no longer have to pay for something nature gives you for free. I despise the fact that cannabis is so expensive, because if more people had cannabis in their lives instead of alcohol and a host of questionably effective pharmaceutical medications, I sincerely believe that this world would be a happier, healthier, more balanced, and caring place. Which is really why I am taking the time to write to you: to try and convey some of my life’s journey with the hope that it will inspire and assist other people in getting on the road to health and recovery by using cannabis and understanding its history and significance in the cultural evolution of humanity.
In 2012 I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Cannabis Culture Award in Barcelona, Spain, and I found it ironic that the ceremony took place just a half-mile away from the 200-foot- statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus. The statue was built in the 1880s––long before cannabis phobia existed––and is adorned with hemp leaves and stalks as decorations honoring his discovery of the then unknown continent: North America.
For Columbus would never have left the port were it not for cannabis, and the very word canvas is a cognate of the word cannabis, because all canvas goods derived from the cannabis plant. The most durable fabrics were made from Cannabis sativa L, as were all the ropes, riggings, books, Bibles, maps, lighting oils, paints, varnish and oakum, the sealant they used between the boards of the ship’s hulls, and the clothing the sailors wore; everything was made from hemp.
In fact, the United States Congress allows the DEA to eradicate all cannabis growing in North America because it is not indigenous to our continent, overlooking the fact that the feral hemp growing in the Midwest is there because we used the plant to make canvas covers for our wagons as we ventured West, exploring this country just as Columbus used canvas to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Because long before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in the 1790s, hemp was, if I can quote the government in their 1942 film produced by the United States Department of Agriculture titled Hemp for Victory:
“Long ago when these ancient Grecian temples were new, hemp was already old in the service of mankind. For thousands of years, even then, this plant had been grown for cordage and cloth in China and elsewhere in the East. Indeed, the very word canvas comes from the Arabic word for hemp. For centuries prior to about 1850 all the ships that sailed the western seas were rigged with hempen rope and sails.
For the sailor, no less than the hangman, hemp was indispensable. A 44-gun frigate like our cherished Old Ironsides took over 60 tons of hemp for rigging, including an anchor cable 25 inches in circumference. The Conestoga wagons and prairie schooners of pioneer days were covered with hemp canvas. In those days hemp was an important crop in Kentucky and Missouri. Then came cheaper imported fibers for cordage like jute, sisal and Manila hemp, and the culture of hemp in America declined.”
In 1994 I had the good fortune of reading The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. I was so moved by his book and the history of cannabis that he presented that I called the number on the back of the book and asked if I could talk to him. I’ll never forget the girl on the telephone explaining to me that they were in the middle of a hemp initiative and that they were trying to gather 500,000 signatures in the next few months to put the legalization of cannabis on the ballot in California.
I was honestly blown away; I had never heard of a marijuana initiative process because I grew up in a state that does not have one, the state of Rhode Island. I am proud to say that my home state legislators have since had the intelligence and foresight to legalize the medical use of cannabis without the voters of the state doing it for them, as we were trying to do in California by gathering signatures and putting it on the ballot.
Jack Herer and I would not only end up meeting, we became best friends, and I was his co-proponent on the Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative of 1995. Under his guidance I learned more than I could’ve ever imagined was connected with cannabis, including teaching me civil resistance mixed with a strong sense of empathy and compassion for the planet and my fellow men and women. Herer was probably one of the greatest teachers of my life, and he made me swear a pledge to work every day to help legalize marijuana and get all the prisoners incarcerated for pot out of jail (until we were dead, marijuana was legal, or we made it to the age of 84).
Unfortunately, Herer passed away before he reached the magical age of 84, which he swore to his old friend, Capt. Ed Adair, that he wouldn’t stop working until then. Truthfully, had Herer lived to be 84, I am more than certain that he would have spent every day educating others about the tyranny of cannabis prohibition in America.
After Herer passed away I was given the task of editing the 12th edition of his great book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, and I urge everybody to take the time to read his phenomenal story of cannabis throughout history and the conspiracy to rob all of us of nature’s greatest resources: cannabis and hemp.
While traveling with Herer around the world I had the great pleasure of attending the very first opening of Sensi Seeds Cannabis Castle. I was standing beside Herer when Ben Dronkers christened the best cannabis he had ever had after his favorite author Jack Herer, with a long-flowering, super- potent, equatorial variety that was fantastic. That evening they opened the basement cultivation rooms for tours, and for the first time I was able to see a state-of-the-art grow room, where money was no object and the marijuana cultivation was being done by a master breeder named Nevil Schoenmakers. He is responsible for some of the most amazing strains to ever come out of the Netherlands, and High Times Magazine once dubbed him the “King of Cannabis,” and deservedly so.
I started cultivating cannabis back in 1984; I traded a good friend’s older brother for his book by Mel Frank for a $20 bag of pot. I still think it was one of the best trades I have ever made in my life. I immediately went home and cleaned out my closet. I found fluorescent lights in the basement, a timer in the front window, and my grandmother had pots and soil and even a watering can in the shed, which I quickly confiscated for my new project. The only thing missing was plant fertilizer. I went to CVS, and I found some Peter’s 20- 20-20 fertilizer; I remember walking up to the counter and expressly telling the checker that I was purchasing it for my grandmother because I felt like he knew that I was going to use the precious fertilizer salts to grow my own beanstalks, which of course I did.
I find it rather ridiculous that my fellow citizens of the United States call themselves “free” when in fact we are all prohibited from growing a simple flower that our forefathers used to help found this country and build it into what it is today.
I believe that cannabis use is a human right of existence that transcends human laws on products that are manufactured, refined, or distilled. The federal laws on cannabis appear to be unconstitutional at best and a complete ruse against intelligent thinking and our own history at its worse. Time will prove that the United States government committed atrocities upon its own citizens by locking them up for cultivating a safe and medicinal plant.
Fortunately, states are leading the way away from federal marijuana prohibition, and we are all responsible for our own freedom. We must use these new tools of communication to inform our neighbors, friends, and relatives about the truth surrounding cannabis and its usefulness to us all.
Rhode Island has taken a great step forward by acknowledging science and compassion and allowing its citizens to cultivate cannabis for medical applications, and I hope that in the future, Rhode Island will lead the country into legalizing––not just decriminalizing–sinsemilla. Cannabis, for all of its uses (for adults only!), including hemp and its environmental applications, is no more of a problem to society than alcohol or tobacco use and should be taxed and regulated just like many other adult-use items that are sold at convenience stores every day. There’s beer and whiskey that nobody expects a child to use but we don’t deny it to adults; we don’t hide away the kitchen knives because Johnny may stab his little sister; instead, we teach morality and ethics, and we keep away from children what isn’t intended for them. We don’t prohibit adults from having any of the objects I just mentioned, and yet we do with cannabis, and none of us should tolerate that anymore.
Which brings me around to discussing you growing your own medicine, and I want to emphasize that it is not hard to do. I was literally only 13 years old when I first realized that cannabis was an annual plant that would flower under command by simply changing its photoperiod from 18 hours of light to 12 hours of light, and, as if by magic, a flower blooms in the dark.
Back in 1984 almost all of the cannabis we got had seeds, and fortunately I was getting some really good cannabis supposedly grown in a greenhouse from a grower in Vermont,
but who knows. What I do know is that the seeds were fantastic, and in just a few weeks of being patient, I had small plants and was completely inspired. My total list of equipment was very short:
That was all I needed to start a career cultivating cannabis that has endured to this day. These days it is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of equipment choices that are available, but if you stick to the basics, you do not have to spend a lot of money to start growing your own medicine.
I recommend growers start by using soil, mainly because good potting soil is probably the easiest growing medium to get great results with a minimal amount of work. Soil also acts as a buffer if the pH of your water is not perfect, and other growing mediums such as cocoa and rock wool require much more specific pH levels and feeding amounts with every watering.
You also do not need a lot of lights to start off. I would recommend picking up some T5 fluorescent lights specifically designed for growing plants. They don’t use much electricity and they do not generate much heat. They work wonderfully for the vegetative growth of a new plant and can maintain mother plants and clones quite nicely.
Aside from soil and lights, you will simply need a fan to constantly, yet softly, stimulate the airflow in the room, which will circulate the air around the plants and cause them to get stronger by gently swaying in the breeze.
Instead of doing what most grow books do at this point, which is to start explaining the technicalities of equipment, I am going to talk instead about the most important element of your garden: the plants. Cannabis comes in a wide range of variety and is often referred to as indica or sativa, but I do not feel that those two words best describe the various varieties of cannabis, so I am going to explain the meaning and definition of the two most common strains:
Sativa: Sativa is a Latin word meaning cultivated, and is used to designate certain seed-grown domestic crops, such as: Lactuca sativa (garden lettuce), Avena sativa (common oats), Medicago sativa (alfalfa), and Castanea sativa (sweet chestnut).
Indica: Indica is a Latin and classical Greek word meaning “of India,” and is used to describe many projects that originate in India. Cannabis aficionados have used the terminology over the centuries to describe the special cannabis that was bred for drug use in India.
To better understand the comparisons between the two strains, I highly recommend reading the new book by Robert C. Clarke and Mark D. Merlin titled Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany, published by University of California Press. In their new book, the authors describe sativa as the only Indo-European cannabis plant used for industrial purposes, such as cordage, canvas, paints, varnish, paper, and most all other items that helped civilized Europe.
The authors also point out that nobody smokes “sativa”; as it is totally a low THC variety that was specifically bred for fiber, oil, and cellulose production. The reason we now have European Cannabis sativa L growing in Nebraska is because the people that founded this country grew cannabis in order to make the canvas that covered their wagons and the sails that piloted their ships across the Atlantic. Cannabis was greatly responsible for the cultural evolution in Eurasia. With its usefulness in making paper and fiber, adding the Latin suffix sativa was like putting a big exclamation point at the end of its name.
What present-day tokers are trying to describe when they use the word sativa is a long-flowering variety of cannabis that has wispy, spindly buds and a unique musky scent that is not sweet like skunk or piney like kush. Back in the 50s and 60s, a majority of the cannabis that was coming into America was coming from equatorial regions such as Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Colombia, Jamaica, and Michoacán––all are tropical regions that produce long-flowering varieties of cannabis that induce euphoria, high-end energy, and can even result in a psychedelic high.
Sometime in the late 60s and early 70s some hippies ventured into the hills of Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountains and discovered a short, thick-leaved, short-flowering drug variety that had been used to make hashish for thousands of years and rightfully called it “indica.”
Back in California, surfers and hippies were already trying to grow seeds from the kilos coming in from the tropical regions of Thailand and Columbia, but unfortunately, they were so far North that their flowering season was too short for the equatorial varieties they had to finish outdoors. Please remember that, in the 1960s, there were no hydroponic markets or indoor-growing equipment available; gardeners were stuck with having to use greenhouses or the good old outdoors, so the tropical varieties that they had to work with limited their ability to succeed.
When indica was introduced into the gardens of cannabis growers, they immediately started crossbreeding their new short-flowering Northern varieties with their long-flowering equatorial varieties, creating many of the hybrids we smoke today. Skunk #1 is a combination of three true-breeding landrace strains: Afghani (#6), Mexican (#25), and Colombian.
Colombian Gold x, Afghan x, and Acapulco Gold x became standards in the indoor cannabis cultivation community and contributed genetically to countless varieties that we still smoke today.
Skunk #1 has a short-flowering time of between 45 and 50 days and is extremely easy to grow. Around the same time, a new industry of indoor gardening was starting up based around new technologies and hydroponics. The high prices of cannabis fueled the expensive hobby of hydroponic farming, and cannabis cultivation and breeding moved from the outdoors and greenhouses into inside controlled environments and perpetual gardens that blossomed into numerous amount of strains.
Looking at the cannabis industry, the best way to judge a variety of cannabis is not with sativas and indicas, but by looking at the flowering time of the plant as a whole. Cannabis takes between six and 16 weeks to finish flowering once induced into a 12-hour photoperiod. Varieties that flower in a short amount of time are considered Northern varieties (or indica) and conversely, long-flowering varieties that can take as long as 16 weeks to bud are what we call sativas––an equatorial variety accustomed to growing near the equator.
Unfortunately, because of prohibitions, most growers have selected strains with quick flowering times and heavy yields over unique varieties that do not look as aesthetically pleasing. By the mid-80s, practically all of the indoor cannabis being grown were heavily narcotic and closer in relation to the northern Afghanistan varieties historically used to make hashish. With the change in flowers being produced in gardens came a change in the effects of the cannabis; in the 60s and 70s a cannabis high was light and euphoric, but in the 80s and 90s, it had more of a body high and sedative effect.
I realized this when I first visited Amsterdam for the 1994 Cannabis Cup, as it was the first time I ever saw such a selection of different cannabis flowers available with the genetic origins known.
Equatorial varieties such as Haze quickly became my personal favorites; they deliver an almost coffee-like energy boost and sometimes a somewhat psychedelic high. Unfortunately, they can take anywhere between 10 and 16 weeks to finish flowering and because of that, we see very little, true equatorial cannabis in the marketplace.
Fortunately, now that cannabis is becoming legal, more and more growers will be looking towards perpetual harvest systems, and short-flowering times will not be a concern. Cannabis aficionados will see an entirely new cross section of cannabis varieties and with it, entirely new highs and medical benefits.
The future of cannabis will be both bright and interesting. Innovations and developments in technology and testing are
going to catapult breeding techniques and give us a better understanding of the cannabinoids and terpenes that science is finding so medically effective.
GROWING YOUR OWN CANNABIS
The one thing I would like to stress is how easy it is to grow cannabis, if anything, people over fertilize and overwater their plants. If you give cannabis some good soil, ample light and a moderate amount of water, the plant will reward you by growing strong and fast. Some terminology that you should become familiar with is:
Mother plants – this is a plant that is kept in vegetative state by keeping it under 18 – 24 hours of light. Mother plants are used to take cuttings from, that will duplicate her and create young plants that can go into flower production and being used to also replace old mothers.
Cloning – this is really not “cloning”, technically taking cuttings is asexual reproduction and cannabis is relatively easy to take cuttings from. I recommend using rockwool cubes soaked in tapwater and powder rooting solutions.
Flowering – cannabis is an annual plant that starts to flower naturally in late July and early August. The cannabis plant will grow leaves and bigger which we call vegetation time, during spring and after the summer equinox when the days start growing shorter cannabis senses the change and after the new moon in July when the sky is most dark, she starts to flower and continues to do so for up to 16 weeks depending on the variety in the duration of the season. Indoors cannabis flowers under 12 hours a light and you can count the amount of days that a plant needs to finish flowering from the first day you put her into a 12 hour cycle. Flowering is going to take on average 8 to 10 weeks to fully mature and for the THC levels to peak.
Drying – is honestly one of the most important elements of growing, as most people ruin meticulously grown cannabis in a haste to dry and use their harvest. Give your plants enough time to evaporate away 80% of the humidity, or until the stems snap when bent. Then move the buds to either brown paper bags for further drying as moist flowers mold easily and mold must be avoided. As the buds become smokable in the brown paper bag moves them into a glass jar and on a daily basis, open the jar and let it degas, allow fresh oxygen into the jar and check the buds until perfect. Cannabis is best if used after three months of drying and curing and the cannabinoids start to break down after nine months – so do not be afraid to smoke your stash!
Todd McCormick is the author of How To Grow Medical Marijuana and the soon to be released GrowMEDICINE. He also appears in the documentary: The Union: The Business Behind Getting High and was the editor of the 12th edition of Jack Herer’s, classic: The Emperor Wears No Clothes . He is currently an Executive Producer on the documentary: The Culture High.