Celebrating The Irreverent Jack Herer
June 2, 2020 in General Education
I will be the first to admit that I knew nothing about the life of Jack Herer before I began writing about him. I was surprised to learn that he was a conservative Republican who joined the military at age 17. Known as the “Hemperor,” Jack Herer was one of the most revered and influential cannabis legalization crusaders of the past 50 years. That is why the cannabis industry celebrates Jack Herer Day every year on his birthday on June 18. In this article I will discuss his transformation from a former military man and establishment figure to a revolutionary pro-cannabis and hemp activist, listing his many accomplishments.
Jack Herer’s Beginnings
- Born on June 18, 1939 in New York
- Drops out of school and joins the Army at 17 and is sent to Korea, serving as a Military Police officer
- Moves to LA with his wife and three children in 1967 to begin working at a neon sign company
- In 1969, an old family friend convinces him to try cannabis for the first time and it forever changes the course of his life
- In 1973, he publishes the zine, Official Guide for Assessing the Quality of Marijuana. He opens his first head shop, High Country, in Van Nuys, starts dealing cannabis and begins making paraphernalia. He created and marketed a false-bottomed shaving-cream can to conceal drugs and a nylon screen known as the Johnny Snowflake. He also launched innumerable ballot initiatives in his relentless effort to legalize cannabis in California.
The Emperor Wears No Clothes
In 1985, Jack Herer completed and self-published the book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. In 1973, Herer began researching and compiling information about the medicinal benefits of cannabis and the myriad uses for industrial hemp. In 1981, the police gave him a $5 ticket for registering voters on federal property at night. He went to court and refused to pay the $5 on principle. He told the judge that he would have to send him to prison and spent 14 days of a 15 day sentence in prison. He made good use of his time there by outlining the details of his book. It included the history of cannabis, its uses and how it became illegal in the US.
In his book, he accused the US federal government of deliberately misleading its citizens about the many uses of cannabis as a renewable source of medicine, biofuels, food, fiber, clothing and paper. Herer was certain that biofuels, especially those made from industrial hemp, could replace fossil fuels while solving most of the world’s economical, ecological and social problems. He also believed that the Hearst and Du Pont families conspired to ban hemp to advance their own commercial interests. They were able to convince the American public that fossil fuels emitted no more levels of pollution and CO2 emissions than did biofuels.
Jack Herer’s Legacy of Cannabis Advocacy
Keith Stroup, the public-interest attorney who founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1970, first met Jack Herer at cannabis legalization protests and events during the 1970s. Here’s what he said about him:
“Sometimes at events and protests he would have more marijuana on him personally than most of us would feel comfortable having in our apartment. He would be smoking joints regardless of where he was, handing out joints; he was truly a Johnny Appleseed who appeared to have very little fear of legal repercussions. And that was a helpful trait; it encouraged the movement to come out of the closet.”
Son Dan Herer, now 56, fondly remembers participating in demonstrations at the LA federal building with his father in the 1980s. They slept on the federal building lawn in tents, listening to live bands and smoking cannabis. Dan is currently the director of the Jack Herer Foundation which provides education about hemp. He describes his father as a “very driven individual” who felt his mission in life was to disseminate accurate information and awareness about cannabis that was sorely lacking.
Dan described his father as a visionary who knew and appreciated how extraordinary cannabis was years before technology made it what it is today. When he considers how far the cannabis industry has come, he is certain that it never would have happened without the hard work and influence of Jack Herer.
In 1990, son Mark Herer, now 54, spent months on the road with his father and with his partner-in-crime, fellow cannabis activist “Captain” Ed Adair, spreading the word about cannabis. They traveled 15,000 miles in Ed’s 28-foot RV, hitting 72 different stops in college towns and festivals on the East Coast and the Midwest. Mark is a now a cannabis grower based in Portland, OR. He ran his father’s The Third Eye Head Shop for 30 years until its closure in 2017.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with our history of cannabis prohibition, until very recently, it was considered a dangerous crime that could land you in prison for several years, especially if you were a person of color. Jack Herer understood this, but it didn’t stop him from his relentless pursuit of pushing for legalization by willfully and gleefully breaking the law. He was arrested 34 times.
The Herer Group
The principles of the company are completely in line with those of its founder; to provide clean and sustainable products that heal individuals as well as the earth. Licensed in California, the cannabis is grown on small farms before undergoing rigorous testing and then manufactured into flower, pre-rolls and vapes pens. They are distributed to licensed cannabis dispensaries in California and other states.
1. Founded the organization Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP), serving as the director
2. The sativa-dominant hybrid strain of cannabis that carries his name has won many awards including the 7th High Times Cannabis Cup
Jack Herer died on April 15, 2010, after suffering a heart attack several months earlier.
While we cannot gather in large groups this year to remember Jack Herer, we can do so virtually.
thecannabis.com, Jack Herer: You Know The Strain, Now Get To Know The Man, Bruce Kennedy, June 19, 2017
latimes.com, Jack Herer Dies at 70; Author and Advocate For Marijuana Legalization, April 24, 2010
forbes.com, Perhaps Jack Herer Was Right, The Future of Mankind May Be Hemp, Andre Bourque, July 8, 2019
wweek.com, The Story of One of the Greatest Cannabis Advocates Who Ever Lived and The Strain That Bears His Name, Martin Cizmar, updated May 23, 2017