By Kristen Mann
Jack began life in New York State on June 18, 1939, two years after the criminalization of cannabis in America, and at the brink of the Second World War. Jack lead a fairly normal child- hood, however, he lost his father at the beginning of his adolescence. At 17, during the height of reefer madness propaganda, he joined the military and served in Korea, just after the war. He returned home with an honourable discharge, and moved to California to marry and raise a family. At this point, Jack was a lot more like Red from That 70’s Show, than Hyde. He owned a sign maintenance business, and at 28, was a self-declared “Goldwater Republican,” proud veteran, and had never smoked a joint in his life. However, after his divorce in 1967, his new girlfriend convinced him that marijuana was something he might enjoy. And enjoy it he did.
“I was feeling sensations that I didn’t even know a human being could experience. I [asked] why is this illegal?” As he mentions in the documentary movie made about him, Emperor of Hemp, Jack felt his eyes had been opened to a whole other world—one filled with peace and loving for the earth and all its inhabitants.
Jack is the best student our movement could have ever hoped for. He absorbed knowledge quickly, and wanted to share his new found secret with others. Despite his late introduction to marijuana, Jack had found a calling, and in 1973 he published his first book, co-written by Al Emmanuel. It is a cartoon colouring book with an elementary introduction to cannabis. Detailing the various types of herb, stone and stoners, as well as some basic activism, GRASS was an instant cult classic in California and then across the country. This fame spread to the book’s author as well, and soon he became a beacon for cannabis knowledge. People started to tell Jack about the past industrial uses of hemp/ marijuana/cannabis. “Some kid would come up to me and say, ‘Did you know that they used to make all their sails and clothes out of marijuana?’.” According to Jack, at this point in time, “If I ran across a marijuana plant growing in a field, I wouldn’t recognize it.” However, Jack knew he had uncovered more to grass than just smoking it. With excitement about his new knowledge, Jack went to share what he had learned with the “leaders” of the marijuana legalization movement. Sadly, his first words fell mostly on deaf ears. Organizations that lobbied for marijuana reform, like NORML, thought that his message was too weird. The idea that marijuana could revitalize our planet and sustain humanity, is an idea that takes some people a few years to wrap their heads around. His message was, “Hemp can save the world!” But the kicker to Jack’s argument is that hemp and marijuana are the same thing, and the prohibition of one is directly tied to the other. “Marijuana (Mexican slang word “cánamo” or cannabis popularized by William Hearst) was most likely a pretext for hemp prohibition and economic suppression.”
Cannabis sativa is the scientific name for sativa (head stone) marijuana, indica (body stone) marijuana and hemp which is sometimes called ruderalis. Although the different sub-species have varying effects and uses, they were all prohibited to ensure corporate interests in non-renewable resources. Jack ties the conspiracy back to the DuPont, Hearst, and Mellon corporations; but it is easy to see how cannabis could be devastating to the petrochemical, pulp/paper, and pharmaceutical shareholders. It is also crucial to know that America is the only industrialized nation to disallow the cultivation of hemp.
According to Jack, cannabis supporters need to be advocates for both industrial hemp and the medical, spiritual, and relaxing effects of consuming the plant. By separating the various uses in to subgroups like the medical patients, the hemp merchants, and the recreational users, we no longer have the strength in numbers or diversity of stakeholders.
The lack of hemp (or even knowledge of it) in North America, in 1974, was breathtaking when you consider that America grew literally thousands of tons of the crop from the country’s founding until the previous half of the last century. Jack met “Captain” Ed Adair while living in California, and they soon became close friends. Ed had already owned some headshops and, with Jack buying in, they began to sell hemp apparel from a small stand called the Venice Beach Hemp Merchant. Although processed hemp has always remained legal, this stand may have been the only place to buy hemp in the country at the time.
In 1974, and then several more times throughout their lives, the two men made a vow. “We swore to work every day to legalize marijuana and get all pot prisoners out of jail, until we were dead, marijuana was legal, or we could quit when we turned 84. We wouldn’t have to quit, but we could.”
In 1981, the newly incoming president was on his way to get a haircut when he stumbled upon Jack and company staging a rally. When told that the protesters leaf flag represented marijuana—not Canada—and that they had won a court decision to be there, Ronald Regan remarked, “I will be on duty in five days, I’ll see what I can do [about that].”
In 1983, Jack spent time in federal prison after a refused Supreme Court appeal related to his civil disobedience work, and excellent job of pissing off Reagan. His official charge was “registering voters after dark on federal property.” The lack of other activism projects in jail allowed Jack the quiet time to begin compiling what is now referred to by many as the “hemp bible.” The first Emperor Wears No Clothes was printed in 1985, now with 11 editions in 16 printings, over 700,000 copies sold, it is the most comprehensive marijuana relegalization fact book in the world. It has been quoted immensely by the most well-spoken activists of our movement, and through con- stant revisions has remained relevant. It includes copies of most, if not all, of the source material used to compile the book, making it the most referenced book on cannabis legalization.
In 1988, Jack ran for President of the United States. Although he only received 1,950 votes, he used the campaign to spread the word of hemp and the flaws of prohibition.
Slowly ,those who had laughed off Jack in the beginning were starting to pay attention. And some of Jack’s early supporters were gaining ground in their own right. Steve Hagar had become the editor of High Times magazine, and choose to publish piece after piece on hemp and Jack’s work. Now there was a very high soapbox for Jack to stand upon, and a whole generation of potheads were being introduced to the lies behind the drug laws.
Sadly, Jack’s greatest ally passed away from leukemia at the age of 50. He was just beginning to see the effects they were having. Three months before Captain Ed Adair died, the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article on marijuana legalization and Jack’s book (May 2, 1991 or page 233 in the Emperor 11th ed.), lending credibility and awareness to the cause overnight. When Jack ran for President that year, he doubled his support, receiving 3,875 votes.
Jack received the Freedom Fighter of the Year Award at the 1994 Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and was inducted into the High Times’ Counter-Culture Hall of Fame, in 2003. His never ending book tour saw great successes. He also found the 1944 Hemp for Victory propaganda film produced by the Department of Agriculture, and the previously unknown catalogue of it in the Library of Congress to support his claims. A movie about his work entitled The Emperor of Hemp—starring Jack and funded by Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop—has become a cult classic and one of the best pot documentaries every made.
In 2000, Jack had a stroke but, explains his wife Jeannie to Cannabis Culture Magazine, “We have had the chance to educate doctors and nurses about medical marijuana, and we are being told by all the specialists that Jack is making incredible progress and is very likely, with intensive therapy, to fully recover normal function and return to the activism that he so loves.” It took him more than three years to recover his speech.
For years, Jack tried to achieve enough signatures to present a ballot initiative entitled the California Cannabis Hemp and Heath Initiative. In this initiative, any adult in California over the age of 21 could grow, consume, and transport marijuana for personal use without governmental interference. Jack’s framework is similar to the legislation that governs the wine industry in California. Essentially, people would be able to cultivate up to 99 plants before being considered a commercial interest. All medical use would be free from taxes, and spiritual and recreational use would be legalized as well.
Corporations would be able to produce marijuana for resale, and would be taxed accordingly but “No person, individual, or corporate entity shall be arrested or prosecuted, be denied any right or privilege, nor be subject to any criminal or civil penalties for the possession, cultivation, transportation, distribution, or consumption of cannabis hemp marijuana…” His initiative also demands the release of all prisoners who were being held for crimes that would be legal under the new laws.
“Herer, like terror,” he says to me with a smile. Surrounded by half a million hempsters at Seattle’s Hempfest, I can’t help but wonder how many of them would be there without Jack’s tireless efforts. His fire, passion, and encompassing, loving demeanor are traits that many of the upcoming activists aspire to share. All day, Jack’s booth is crowded with star-struck new-comers and long time friends, and I can’t resist giving the man a kiss. Jack doesn’t leave his booth. He has had his very own port-a-potty erected behind his stand—lovingly bedazzled with signs reading “Jack’s Throne”—and unless he is speaking on the main-stage, he sits in his chair signing books, prophesying his message and smoking joints until everybody has had a chance to learn what they need to from the Hemperor.
He seems to be doing very well in his recovery from the stroke and heart attack, in July 2000, while giving a speech at the Bill Conde World Hemp Festival in Eugene, Oregon. He told me that he was using Rick Simpson’s oil (see <www.phoenixtears.ca> to learn more) to great benefit, and would be traveling to Amsterdam in the fall to watch Rick receive the 2009 Freedom Fighter of the Year Award. Jack credited it with his renewed ability to walk without aid and the return of his facial muscles, allowing him to speak more clearly than he had in years.
By this time Jack is 71 years old, but he remains at his booth hours after the festival has officially ended and everyone else had packed up. I watch prominent activists who had been manning their own booths all weekend—directors of NORML, and writers and editors of High Times magazine— come to pay their appreciation to the Hemperor of our movement. l light up like a groupie in the presence of Jack.
I had wanted to visit Jack at home in California. When he learned that Gayle and I were fighting for the cause up here in Canada, he wanted to know everything and invited us to come visit him anytime. From the stories I have heard, this was very characteristic of him. Jack’s home was always more office than house, and he opened the doors to his world. If you were interested in cannabis, you were interesting to Jack and welcome anytime.
He was a man full of fire and provocative thoughts. “Nobody has ever died from pot that wasn’t shot by cop,” he was found proclaiming. During his speech at Portland’s Hempstalk, in Sept. 2009, Jack spoke passionately against the plans to tax marijuana, and made an impassioned plea to resist taxing medical cannabis and encouraged all in the audience to eat the hemp nut as food. He collapsed while leaving the stage.
Jack had suffered another stroke and was medically induced into a coma. Although he continued to fight for several more months, his medical ups and downs were trying on many.
Jack left this earthly plane on a Thursday. Word of his passing spread like wildfire, and just after noon I got a call telling me to pull my car over and brace for sad news. I was stunned. Jack Herer was one of the first strain names I heard about, and my entire cannabis education has been largely crafted by the influence of this gentle giant. His book was renowned by the time I drifted into pot culture. His style of education to change pub- lic perception, and his instance on sticking to the facts, is the model Hempology 101 follows in Victoria, Nanaimo, and soon UBC in Vancouver. His fact finding and persistence in using hemp as an environmentally kind alternative to petrochemical products, sparked a commercial industry and set a new standard for “potheads” to be leaders of change, fueled by the seed and bedecked in hempen wear. Wesatbya river and smoked a joint of fine JH to honour a man who’s influence will span decades.
Jack had a vision in which hemp was used in place of plastics, gasoline, and synthetic medications. He came out of his vision believing that, “Hemp can save the world.” Jack built the framework, but now it’s up to all of us to see the vision through.
Today, over 200 communities around the world march through the streets for the Global Marijuana March, events like Seattle’s Hempfest pull crowds as large as Woodstock, and Apr. 20 is the world wide cannabis celebration that sees as many as 10,000+ people in some cities. The United States is the only industrial country to still prohibit the growing of hemp, but the hemp textile and hemp food import into America is reaching into the millions of dollars every year—and growing. Jack’s intensive signature collection lead to the ballot referendum to legalize medical marijuana in California, and now 13 other states have followed suit.
Jack left behind a loving family including six children, a number of grandchildren, and a brother and sister—however, Jack’s family also included thousands of supporters and fans. Websites, blogs, and forums served as a worldwide wake, and obituaries were run in the LA Times and the Huffington Post. His funeral filled the synagog and continued for hours on a hillside overlooking LA, the city where Jack had spent most of his adult life.
H i s biological and activist families came together to commemorate the grandfather of the hemp movement. His funeral echoed with calls to consider now a time to revitalize our commitment to legalization and justice, and not to let his passing be the end of an era. Jack, himself, summed it up best. With a “See you next time,” Jack left the Hempstalk stage, and this consciousness, moved on to his next great adventure.