Want To Grow Marijuana (Legally)? 'Weed' Expert Pens Textbook

Believe it or not, medicinal marijuana in relatively easy to purchase in some states. The Los Angeles City Council recently adopted an ordinance that puts strict controls on marijuana dispensers operated by private retailers, many of whom get their inspiration from a textbook titled Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower's Bible by Jorge Cervantes. Host Michel Martin speaks with Cervantes (who for years went by a pseudonym for fear of legal backlash) about the increasing interest in harvesting medicinal marijuana and how his brand of multi-platform teaching tools have established him as an expert, of sorts, on growing and selling marijuana — the legal way.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

Just ahead, my commentary on corporate shame or the lack thereof. But first, the Los Angeles City council last month approved an ordinance aimed at limiting the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. There are currently an estimated 800 to 1,000 dispensaries in Los Angeles alone, several hundred having opened in the last year. That's more than the number of Starbucks in the city. Some are calling it a green rush and although L.A. is trying to put a cap on that green rush, others are moving in the opposite direction. Fourteen very different jurisdictions now allow the use of marijuana with a prescription.

So, that got us wondering, where do they get the stuff? It turns out that trade schools have opened to cater to that need. And often the sole textbook in the curriculum is "Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower's Bible," by Jorge Cervantes. So, just who is this Jorge Cervantes? We called him. It turns out Jorge Cervantes is a pseudonym for a man named George Van Patten. And he joins us now from San Francisco. And I do want to mention that some people may not consider this an appropriate subject for all listeners. So, with that being said, Mr. Van Patten, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. GEORGE VAN PATTEN (Author, "Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower's Bible"): Well, thank you very much, Michel. It's very nice to be here. I'm really pleased that you asked me on your program.

MARTIN: How did you get started in this business?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Well, a long time ago in school - I went to school in Mexico and started smoking cannabis there and then came back to America and found out that there was very little information on growing it and there was a lot of misinformation. So, I decided to straighten things out, so to speak, and write a book about growing indoors.

MARTIN: Well, you do have kind of this foot-in-both-worlds persona. You do take the growing guide very seriously. It's very well organized. It's very easy to read. But you are kind of having fun with it. I'll just play a little clip from your DVD.

(Soundbite of video clip)

Mr. VAN PATTEN: It's me, Jorge Cervantes, your ganja guide. In my first DVD, for beginners, we took you from seed to harvest. This time I want to take you on a garden tour of my home country, Spain. We'll grow indoors, outdoors, hydro, organic. We'll even visit a guerrilla garden in the Spanish countryside. Anyway, enough talk.

(Soundbite of machine)

Mr. VAN PATTEN: (unintelligible). I have a field to plant.

MARTIN: Well, that's not your home country, is it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VAN PATTEN: No, it isn't. It isn't. I like to pull people's leg actually. This whole thing of George Van Patten and Jorge Cervantes has been real fun actually.

MARTIN: Is this you with the dreadlocks wig with the beret in that?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yes, it is. That's my Che Guevara-Bob Marley look.

MARTIN: Okay. Why do you - you undertook this enterprise at a time when the growing and distribution was illegal in totality, correct?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yes, that's correct.

MARTIN: Why you decide to do that?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Because I thought it would be legal in just a few years, you know. There was that Schaffer Commission report came out - what year was that -1972 that said that cannabis should be legalized and Nixon's response to that was to start the DEA. And I just didn't think that would work. I thought it was too crazy. And apparently I was wrong.

MARTIN: Just to clarify, you don't use cannabis for medical reasons yourself. You just like it.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yes, I like it. But actually I do use it for medical reasons. I've got my back. I have a lot of inflammation there. And I seem to carry stress in my back. So, when I smoke cannabis, I'm able to lose the pain in my back. And then also it helps me sleep, too.

MARTIN: But why did you start using it? Presumably you haven't had this back issue your whole life. You originally just started using it for recreational use. Is that right?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yes. That's correct.

MARTIN: Some people, obviously - is this a correct analogy? Like you - you consider it like a glass of wine, that...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yes.

MARTIN: ...other people might - which is a legal substance that other people use...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yes.

MARTIN: ...for the same reason. It's only supposed to be sold to adults, and it's not meant to be abused. And so, you see it in the same vein as that.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, yeah, very much so. In fact, it's a not as harmful as alcohol can be.

MARTIN: How so?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Well, alcohol works on all your other organs and depletes a lot of moisture out of your body and overworks your liver to metabolize the alcohol. And cannabis just - well, if you inhale it, there's a little bit of danger in your lungs, but it's actually an anti-expectorant. They've not tied cannabis to cancer at all. And then you can also vaporize it or you can eat it.

MARTIN: Do, you have any thought about - any concern about the ethics of knowingly engaging in illegal conduct, even if you feel it's a beneficial product?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: My main problem with it is having legal trouble or going to jail or something, but none whatsoever. It's a plant. It's a plant that was made illegal 70 years ago, you know. It's really a part...

MARTIN: Yeah, but cocaine - but cocaine results from - it originally has organic sources, you know. So does crack.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: No, that's true only...

MARTIN: So...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, yeah - no, that's true, and so does hemlock. So, they can also with...

MARTIN: So does tobacco. And tobacco...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yeah. That's...

MARTIN: ...I think is demonstrably harmful to the body, and it's a natural substance. So, it's a plant.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: That's also true.

MARTIN: But you just feel - what? That the benefits outweigh...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, the benefits, yes.

MARTIN: ...the negatives, as a product.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Very much so, very much so. And I don't think it's a bad, harmful substance, either.

MARTIN: So, I noticed that in chapter two of the book, is security. I mean, chapter one has - what? Kind of your ABCs of growing indoors.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yes.

MARTIN: It's the basics.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Overview. Yeah.

MARTIN: But on the very first page you say, security: Never tell anybody about any garden. Never show your garden to anyone. And you say, read chapter two, security, twice.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Twice, right.

MARTIN: Why did you make such a big deal out of that?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: A lot of people forget that - and the statistics on marijuana busts are just disgusting. You know, these guys are - they're so easy to catch. They're farmers, you know? And they've got plants that they can't move with their home. So, they're really sitting ducks for the police. Generally, what happens is it's usually a disgruntled friend or a mate. And they will literally hold you ransom and threaten to tell the police on you.

MARTIN: Have you ever been arrested?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yeah, one time, a very long time ago for underage drinking.

MARTIN: Underage drinking? Oh, I see. Well.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yeah, that's a long time ago. Yeah.

MARTIN: How have you avoided - I mean, I'm just curious about how you've lived this inside-outside life all these years. I mean, I - people must know who you are...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...at this point because you're famous...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, it's kind of...

MARTIN: ...in this circle.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Yeah, I guess so. (unintelligible)

MARTIN: Is it the disguise? Is that the wig?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Well, it's a kind of a public secret, and I don't have - a lot of times, people have big ego problems where they got to tell everybody who they are. And I - me, me, me. I'm the most important guy. And I put myself second, and I look at myself as being Jorge's manager. And Jorge comes out once in a while. And when he's there, everything's fine. But most of the time, he stays in the closet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VAN PATTEN: So, I basically separate him pretty good. And then, too, I stay away from really heavy things that I don't need to know about. I know a lot of heavy people, and I just don't talk to them about a lot of subjects.

MARTIN: You mainly grow for your own use? Or do you also supply...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, yeah, it Spain - yeah, in Spain you can grow. That's not a problem.

MARTIN: Oh, in Spain, you really do grow...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...in Spain.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure. That's not a problem for personal use, yeah. Alto consumo is what they call it.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with George Van Patten, also known as Jorge Cervantes. He is the author of the definite reference work on growing marijuana.

Do you think that the medical marijuana initiative is a gateway - if you want to call it that - to legalizing marijuana for recreational use?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: I don't know if I should say this or not, but I have to be honest. Once people see that medical marijuana doesn't cause people to go crazy, get violent, commit crimes, be bad parents and everything, they're going to realize that it's not so bad and, yes, eventually it will become legal.

MARTIN: When do you think that would happen?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Boy, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VAN PATTEN: I've been wrong so many times on this. I'm not going to hold my breath. I do think it'll happen after 25 to 30 states pass medical marijuana laws. And then the federal government will be compelled to do something. And then after that, they're going want tax revenue and they're going to want people out of jail. So there's got to be a process, but I really couldn't tell. It's going to take a while.

MARTIN: Well, we know that in some places in Los Angeles, it's pretty obvious that - the medical marijuana thing is a fig leaf, because there are people openly soliciting people to come in and get served, as it were. Here's a short clip. We have some tape of a street - I think it's in Venice, where people are encouraging people to come and sample. Here it is.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Sure.

Unidentified Man: You can get it legal, right here. The doctor is in. Would you like to see the doctor? No? Yes?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: For somehow, I don't feel like this is a trained medical professional. I don't know why I get that impression. But do that - and I do wonder who supplies these dispensaries.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VAN PATTEN: It's - what comes first, the chicken or the egg? How does the chicken show up if the egg's not there? Well, the same with the cannabis. Where do you get it? You get it from somebody else that has a card, supposedly. But I'd say - I was in the Hayward Dispensary last year, and they had a secure room. And they had about - I think while I was there, there was three or four people that came in to sell cannabis to them. And I don't know if they had licenses or anything, you know. That's a big grey area. So, purportedly they're supposed to have licenses to grow up to six plants apiece, adult plants, but often they don't.

MARTIN: So, you are - now, though, you were kind enough to come in and talk to us as George Van Patten, also known as Jorge Cervantes. Is this is a change, now? Do you feel that it's okay to come out into the open...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Well, yeah, you know...

MARTIN: ...more or less?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: ...it's been a bit scary, to be honest. It's been on the Internet. People have figured it out. But now is a good time, I think, for me to come out of the closet because, for example, the Obama administration has a hands-off policy toward medical marijuana. And people are understanding that putting the sick people in jail is not really humane or practical, especially when they could be getting tax revenue from cannabis.

And then, too, in the society, you can also see that things are changing. There are programs like "Weeds" on television, and then the other, like the "Harold And Kumar" movies. And I looked it up on Wikipedia yesterday, and there's 150 different movies or more that mention cannabis, or are specifically about cannabis. So I think things are changing.

MARTIN: I take your point that that there are legal substances like tobacco or like alcohol that can have even more significant health effects than marijuana, and I'm interested in your view of why it is that some substances are tolerated and some are not.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: It's cultural, mainly. Alcohol's always been accepted. It's the lawyers' drink, you know. Everybody drinks to feel macho and stuff. It's - the military drinks, you know. That's one of the things. It's also cultural, with wines and beers and whatnot, and then hard spirits, you know, Kentucky bourbon and scotch, like that.

But with the cannabis, it came from the East, in general, and it came from Mexico, and it was not as well disseminated as alcohol was. And it didn't make you aggressive. It made you passive. And the people that smoked it were easy to distinguish. In America, at first, it was the Mexicans and black musicians, and they were social outcasts like that.

MARTIN: So, you think it's a matter of not the properties of the substance itself, but who was initially using it that made it illegitimate?

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Who was usually - originally using it, yeah, exactly. And also the properties. It's what it does to you. It makes you more passive, and in a lot of ways introverted, for some people. And socially, that's not accepted everywhere.

MARTIN: I take your point that, in a way, you're fighting a cultural stigma that's connected to people as opposed to the substance. But then I also wonder whether you're drive to achieve greater acceptance for this drug is fighting against other trends in society, where people think, you know, we don't really need these external things, anyway. We can just...

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Oh, right.

MARTIN: ...deal with ourselves. You know, we don't really need mood-altering substances.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Well, that's...

MARTIN: We should try to get away from them.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: That's people talking out of both sides of their mouth, because they'll say that, but at the same time the pharmaceutical companies are filling everybody up with dope, non-stop. And they're having drug solutions for everything. My brother - or, let's see, my nephew - had to take Ritalin because he got in a fight at school and they said he was too aggressive.

And when I lived up in B.C., Canada, one school system had 30 percent of the kids under - well, it was like 11 or 12 of young males, 11 or 12 - they were all taking Ritalin - one school system, you know. That's a hell of a lot of kids. So they're saying this on one side: Yes, we want to control you, but we want to do it our way. But if the society pressures are too much on you, you have to look back to the society and let us solve the problem rather than you trying to make your own solutions.

MARTIN: That was George Van Patten, also known as Jorge Cervantes. He - both of them, one or the other, both of them - are the author of the definite reference guide to growing marijuana. It's called "Marijuana Growing Basics." You will find it in many schools where they teach the growing of medical marijuana. And he was kind enough to join us from San Francisco. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. VAN PATTEN: Thank you very much.

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