Words and Books by Bill Drake
I grew my first Cannabis to full flower in a polder garden on the shores of Lake Chad as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1965-66. The seeds were from a lid of beautiful Oaxacan Purple flowers that I had scored in San Francisco during Peace Corps training at SF State, and the plants came up quickly and healthy in the rich polder soil and the long sunny Saharan days. But just as the first flowers were appearing our village was overrun by rebel soldiers, people were killed and homes burned, and ultimately I was never able to return. After leaving Chad I traveled and learned from growers, merchants, fellow travelers and scholars in West and North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Mexico. I began growing seriously, although on a very small scale, after returning to Oregon in the late 60s.
1969 was the height of the anti-war movement. Busts for a roach or a few seeds were the Fed’s primo terror weapon against the anti-war resistance, and growers were extra easy targets. Photos of fat grinning cops standing next to a few droopy plants in a tin foil-lined closet were enough to make front page “Major Drug Bust!” news anywhere in America. The FBI in Oregon was especially aggressive and although there was no DEA quite yet in 1969, all that evil and hatred, and big, big money was poised and ready to go.
After watching a couple of my friends get busted and badly hurt I realized that I didn’t have the courage to continue growing and selling, even my little quarter ounces to U of O students, but I wanted to find a way to stay involved with this plant that had become so much a part of my life. One fine sunny day on the banks of the McKenzie River a good friend who was probably tired of listening to me bitch about the right to grow said - Well then, why don’t you write a book? They can’t bust you for writing a book can they?
That clicked for me. I didn’t think they could, so I did. And as it turned out, a few million cultivators handbooks in a bunch of languages later, they couldn’t.
I wrote The Cultivators Handbook of Marijuana because I wanted to share what I had learned about growing Marijuana at a time when it looked like even the remote possibility of ever having the God-given right to grow Cannabis might be shut down forever. I threw everything I knew or thought I knew into that little book - the male-female distinction, the importance of light spectrum, the role of CO2, some basics of grafting, plant genetics, the critical role of worms. I even threw in some crazy shit about grafting hops and Cannabis that I had been playing with that spring. By the way, don’t waste your time with hops. I just left this section the book because people said they had fun with it and it led to some other useful areas of cultivation.
The information that I could share from experience was mostly about sun-growing because that’s what I knew best, aside from a few failed indoor attempts and besides, good lighting was still a long way over the horizon. I used drawings, not photos, by a great Eugene street artist named Terry Rutledge to show “how-to”. The FBI would have loved a few photos for evidence. What was so interesting and gratifying to me was that one of the things people really liked was the research bibliography. Knowledge empowers us all.
I think that between all the legitimate editions of Cultivators Handbook and all the ripoff copies that I’ve probably been able to reach and share what I have learned with a few million people, which gives me true satisfaction. If that includes you or your friends and family, I am grateful.
In 1971, a few years after the first Cultivators Handbook, Rolling Stone asked me to write a history of world Cannabis culture, which Jann Wenner asked me to call the Connoisseur’s Handbook of Marijuana. I thought that was a great title in an age when the language around Marijuana and Cannabis was already being degraded into “Pot” and “Weed”.
In my traveling and studying I had come to appreciate the depth of European, Middle Eastern and Asian cultural history around Cannabis and I wanted to share what I had learned. I look back and find myself wishing that the internet and archive.org had been available at the time – there is so much rich history now available that I didn’t have a clue about when I wrote Connoisseur’s Handbook working only from libraries and correspondence.
Then I wrote the International Cultivators Handbook in 1976 at the suggestion of friends who I kept boring with my stories.
As I mentioned, after the Peace Corps I had traveled through Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon meeting growers, merchants and scholars, and wound up for a month back in the stacks of the League of Nations library in Geneva. There I kept finding more incredible nuggets of information buried in old colonial reports - items like the “Golden Pits of Mysore” describing in drab bureaucratic language after that wonderful report title how Indian Cannabis growers built pits of cattle manure around the base of their plants then watered it with urine. I filled several journals with notes. I wanted to share these very cool insights I had learned and fortunately my friends at Bookpeople/Wingbow Press agreed and they published a beautiful first edition of International Cultivators Handbook, which I revised and updated a bit in 2011.
After spending part of the 1970s as a single Dad living in Texas where I had family and a network of support, but damned little Cannabis, I met my life partner Lisle and we moved to Tesuque New Mexico in 1978, where we settled into a very old adobe home alongside the Tesuque River and began growing a nice little herb garden with a few quiet corners of Cannabis. Before long we were sharing our flowers with friends and found ourselves experimenting with edibles.
I had learned about the use of fats and oils to extract Cannabis, and the role of heat in potentiating the flower, while traveling and researching in the Middle East and in Geneva, and Lisle is a superb chef who loves to experiment and knows her ingredients, so together we began creating medical edibles that tasted good – a kind of “beyond the brownie” approach. We began with edibles created for several of our close friends with cancer and gut issues, along with just plain tasty stuff. Our edible medicines became known in a quiet sort of way, and more than a few doctors referred people to us.
Out of that came my last book in the Cannabis space – Marijuana Foods - first published in the early 1980s and still, in my opinion, one of the better resources for basic Cannabis edibles know-how. In spite of one of history’s sleaziest covers by Simon & Schuster, it was beautifully illustrated by Pat Krug, and although it badly needs updating these days it is still a thoughtful cook’s guide to medical Cannabis edibles.
Since Marijuana Foods I’ve published other books and I blog pretty continuously on medical research related to Cannabis, but I’m happy to pass the grower’s mantle to those who have come after me and done such great work in refining the pleasant and profitable art of Cannabis cultivation. I hope that along with Todd and the other authentic voices you’ll find here, that I can continue to contribute interesting information that growers and appreciators of Cannabis can use and enjoy. This is going to be a fine journey together.
You can read more of Bill Drake's wonderful writing at his website: