“Jack, have you ever smoked marijuana? . . . I think you should.” This simple statement from Jack Herer’s girlfriend may have changed the course of history.
June 18th is Jack’s birthday. He was fighting to legalize hemp until his final days. It is no understatement to suggest he was gone before his time. This piece is a celebration of Jack’s life and a hopefully it will serve as a reminder that there is still so much work to do.
Before we can appreciate his accomplishments, we need to understand where he was coming from. Jack Herer wasn’t always a notorious cannabis activist. In truth, he identified as a rigid, conservative, Goldwater Republican. Still, these conservative political beliefs may have been exactly what led Jack to stand up and speak ‘truth to power’.
Barry Goldwater was a five term U.S. Senator and had an unsuccessful attempt as the Republican candidate for the 1964 Presidential election. Goldwater was an outspoken anti-communist, anti-union, and anti-welfare advocate. Despite losing the Presidential bid, his ideas resonated throughout the 1960’s. Goldwater was also associated with the Libertarian movement. The Libertarian school of thought sought to “maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association and the primacy of individual judgement. Libertarians generally share a scepticism of authority.” As some will say, the problem with the world is civil obedience — not disobedience.
Originally, Jack Herer supported the Vietnam War and looked disparagingly down on the hippie culture that came out to protest the U.S involvement. Like many Americans, Herer felt that marijuana was in part fuelling and inspiring the social delinquents to protest. Presumably they were opposed to the war because they were cowards.
Around this time the (now infamous) film Reefer Madness that was originally produced in 1936 was re-released in theatres in 1972. The film left an indelible impression on Jack. He had very real fears that smoking ‘reefer’ would surely lead to far more illicit drug use and criminal activity as portrayed in the gloomy propaganda film. Outcomes that never came true once Jack finally tried cannabis for the first time.
A number of years after his divorce he met a girl that would open his mind to cannabis and nothing would ever be the same again. He loved it. When he asked her why cannabis was illegal, she said, “I don’t know.”
Jack’s close friends described him as a “force of nature.” Love him or hate him, there was no denying his passion and determination once he committed to the cause of legalizing hemp.
Jack Herer became famous after he opted to embrace a lifelong dream and wrote his illustrated book Grass with the help of a friend to illustrate it. Grass went on to sell over 35,000 copies and he was instantly revered as a marijuana expert and the genius behind the successful underground book.
Only after trying cannabis did the words of the ‘hippie’ protesters start to resonate. The kids weren’t protesting the war because they didn’t want to fight. They were looking beyond the boorish thoughts of the masses and seeing the values of peace, freedom, and the environment with total clarity. It wasn’t that they were missing the forest for the trees; the protesters were indeed the only ones who understood the bigger picture.
Jack was a tenacious researcher. After hearing tidbits of information from people he met following the release of Grass he was fascinated and uncovered all the history of hemp that he could. Jack Herer believed that hemp could save the world. It was this vision of a world free from pollution, acid rain, global warming, and deforestation that fed Jack’s determination to see hemp cultivation legalized in the U.S.
“The word ‘canvas’ is just the Dutch pronunciation of cannabis.” Jack was quick to point out that the canvas covered wagons and ships that brought the pioneers to America were made from the cannabis plant.
Jack and his close friend, and popular head shop owner, Edwin Marsh Adair (aka, Captain Ed), made a pledge to work everyday to legalize cannabis “until we were, “dead, it was legal, or we turned 84.” The two felt it was too great of an injustice that anyone should be in prison for cannabis related crimes that they had no choice but to commit all of their time to it until things changed.
In 1979 Jack and Captain Ed open the “nations first hemp store” in Venice Beach, California. Twenty years later the U.S. hemp industry would be rejuvenated and grew from the seed of Jack’s hemp cart store on Venice Beach to a hundred million a year industry.
Jack felt that the cannabis plant should be decriminalized and American cultivation should be resumed. He argued that hemp “could be used as a renewable source of fuel, medicine, food, fibre and paper/pulp and that it can be grown in virtually any part of the world for medicinal as well as economical purposes.” He further asserted that the U.S. government has been deliberately hiding the proof of this from the citizens of this nation intentionally. Then he was arrested.
But prison was just another stepping-stone for Jack. He used the quiet time in prison as a reprieve from his busy schedule and sat down to write his second book. In 1985 he published, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. The book has been described as “part scientific document, part journalistic expose.” In this book, now a cult classic, he explains how hemp really could save the world. The book included a $50,000 invitation for anyone who could prove him wrong. Some people muttered that his research was flawed but no one ever accepted the challenge.
It wasn’t long before the community that he fought so hard to represent honoured Jack. He was a celebrity judge at the Cannabis Cup. He even had his own strain named after him. The Sensi Seed Bank won the 7th Annual Cannabis Cup with Jack Herer, an unstable hybrid of Haze, Northern Lights #5 and Skunk #1. It remains popular today, just read the reviews:
“Reminds me of the weed in the early seventies, psychedelic without sedation.”
“Nothing compares to Jack Herer… I recommend you smoke long thick blunts to understand why it’s called the king! It’s strong and it lasts for long period in comparison to others… smooth and perfect taste. I strongly recommend it, if rocks.”
In 1994 he was honoured at the International Conference of Drug Policy Reform in Washington with the Robert C. Randall award for Achievement in Citizen Action.
Jack Herer passed away on April 15th, 2010 at the age of 70.
His unrelenting, intelligent attacks on the politicians who would deny sensible drug law reform will forever remain as his legacy. Hemp was here long before any of our drug laws. Always keep in mind that the constitution was printed on hemp paper.
Indeed, many of the assertions that Jack made are coming true now. He was a remarkable man with the gift of knowing the full value of hemp. He wasn’t wrong, he was however before his time.
As we carry on to finish the work that Jack started, I would like to close with one more quote: “I don’t know if hemp is going to save the world, but I’ll tell you this, it’s the only thing that can.”
Thank you, Jack. This one is for you.