Long Live the Hemperor, Jack Herer!
When Jack Herer spoke about hemp, everyone listened. He was outwardly dismayed with the US government, which he said hid the facts from American citizens. His book The Emperor Wears No Clothes was originally published in 1985 in order to make this unknown information widely available. It became the seminal book on the history of hemp and marijuana prohibition.
Jack wanted this information to be available to everyone, so he published the text of the book here on the internet for free. Now in its 11th edition, this book is considered the “Bible” of cannabis facts, and continues to be used as an essential research tool and catalyst in the advocacy to decriminalize cannabis. Everyone in the know has heard of it, read it, shared it, or referred to it in the debate over the merits of this plant. In fact, many of the most widely circulated arguments touting the benefits of cannabis entered the cultural consciousness with Jack’s book. He soon earned the nickname “The Hemperor.”
Jack was basically on a book tour for 30 years. Many don’t recognize that hemp is where it is today because of Jack. He worked for this, and now it’s happening: hemp is an available product, and prohibition is on its way out. – Ed Rosenthal
Here’s a beautiful overview of Jack’s life and work by Bonnie King.
Jack spent the early 1970s in Venice Beach, California, where he opened two head shops. In 1973, he published his first book, G.R.A.S.S. (Great Revolutionary American Standard System), and met his friend and mentor Edwin M. Adair, aka “Captain Ed.” Captain Ed changed Jack’s life, bringing enlightenment to what Jack had already learned about the far-reaching benefits of the hemp plant.
“Once he had this inspiration, the ‘aha’ moment, everything changed,” Ed Rosenthal said. “Jack saw the relationship with marijuana and hemp—that they had a similar destiny: if one is outlawed, so is the other; if one is legal, so will be the other. He had a profound understanding of the intricate connection between the medicinal herb and the industrial plant that required they be addressed as together.”
In 1974, when Jack was 34, he and Captain Ed made their famous pact. In Jack’s own words: “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 until we turned 84 when we could quit. We didn’t have to quit, but we could.” True to their word, they worked together on the issue until Captain Ed’s untimely death at age 50 from leukemia in 1994. After Ed’s death, Jack continued with their mission and lived on to fulfill their pledge.
Jack Herer shouted his message from the rooftops, becoming the most well-known hemp activist in the world.
Jack Herer was a Man on a Mission
A gregarious, bombastic man, Jack left an impression with everyone he met. As an activist he was a force to be reckoned with. Jack would take on a whole room full of naysayers and come out ahead. He insisted that hemp and cannabis groups alike support marijuana in all its forms, and he was happy to debate the issue. He once chided the Hemp Industries Association because he felt they were trying to separate the hemp cause from the more controversial marijuana issue in order to legitimate their cause. Jack felt they could not turn a blind eye to marijuana arrests and imprisonments and succeed. His message to hemp activists and entrepreneurs was this: “Until these people are out of jail, until this plant is legal in all its forms, you guys have a responsibility!”
There were those with whom Jack did not see eye-to-eye, but they found harmony by focusing on common goals. Chris Conrad, editor of the first edition of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, said the first time he met Jack, the two of them were arguing within minutes. “If you never got mad at Jack, and Jack never got mad at you, then you probably didn’t know Jack very well.” Jack was a good friend and a good guy to have on your side. Certainly, he was a lot of fun to smoke marijuana with! He had an indisputable talent for bringing all sides to the table.
Some stoner lore tells of Ed Rosenthal and Jack being super critical of each other. Ed says this is categorically untrue. “It never got to anything like that. We had intellectual arguments only; we were never rivals. We were two co-revolutionaries working on different aspects of the same project.”
Jack Herer’s mission was driven not by a desire for fame or fortune, but rather by his unyielding determination to end hemp prohibition and thus right a wrong that had unfolded from a distorted misdirection in America’s political history. Like many, Jack understood that US policies on hemp and cannabis were illogical and even detrimental to the earth. “It is the safest, smartest, best medicine on the planet,” Jack said. “You’d have to be stupid not to use it!”
Many know Jack Herer’s name not for his activism, but for a high-grade strain of cannabis from Sensi Seeds with sativa dominant characteristics, named in honor of Jack’s work. It is a complex strain that requires some gardening talent to grow it optimally, yet people love it because of its mentally stimulating and uplifting high that is fresh with a peppery bite. In these qualities, it shares much with Jack Herer, the man. The Jack Herer strain has won several awards, including the 7th High Times Cannabis Cup, the “Academy Awards of Marijuana.” It has also become a popular choice as a parent strain with its mix of old-school skunk and the ever-popular west coast haze. Because of its genetic diversity, many Jack variants have also emerged on the market, bringing out different facets of the cross.
In his book Jack reiterates cannabis’ low risk use, “A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response.” Jack offered a reward of $100,000 to anyone who could prove marijuana had killed a user. To this day, no one has tried to collect.
Every year, Jack and his crew would travel thousands of miles making appearances, book signings, and speaking engagements at hemp festivals and other events. Jack met hundreds of people a day, and to all of them he had the same message: hemp will save the world.
He was also a pivotal figure in the fight for medical marijuana. In 1996, Jack assisted Dennis Peron in the passing of California Proposition 215. Ending prohibition was still a few giant steps away, but Jack was adamant that it was within reach—closer, with each educated voter. Jack was very opposed to taxing marijuana and became more fixed in his position with age. However, he understood progress, and the sacrifices required for advancement.
In 2000, the Hemperor suffered a heart attack and a major stroke resulting in long-term rehab for ongoing speaking difficulties and loss of mobility. He was back in action after three years. In May 2004, he revealed that treatment with the aminita muscaria, a psychoactive mushroom was the secret to his recovery and the subject of an upcoming book. Jack was back and going strong.
Jack’s tireless efforts did not go unnoticed by the larger cannabis community. In 2003, Herer was inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame at the 16th Cannabis Cup in recognition of his first book G.R.A.S.S. An award was also established in his name in 2004 by Patient Alliance.
By 2009, Jack was back in full swing. He was speaking more clearly and said he felt better than he had in years. On September 12th of that year, he was at HempStalk in Portland, Oregon, where he was anxious to discuss the medicinal success of Rick Simpson’s Healing Hemp Oil, whom he expected to join on a European tour weeks later. He was enthusiastic about the future.
On that fateful day, Jack encouraged the audience at HempStalk to continue the fight, to see the current marijuana initiatives through to success, and to resist the temptation to agree to pay the government to use cannabis. “I don’t want to give the United States government one fucking dollar of taxes. I think they should go to jail for getting you and me and 20 million other people arrested for pot, the safest thing you can do in the universe!”
After his well-delivered speech, Jack’s collapse and sudden heart attack were a shock. He was rushed to the hospital and showed some progress when transferred to a rehabilitation center about a month later, but was unable to fully recover.
“The Hemperor” Jack Herer passed away on April 15, 2010, at the age of 70. He is survived by a worldwide circle of thousands of friends and fans.
Jack’s life’s work was a gift to all generations, creating the foundation of a more enlightened social consciousness, and an example of what one dedicated man can do when he puts his mind to it and his life into it. Jack’s life’s work was a gift to all generations, creating the foundation of a more enlightened social consciousness, and an example of what one dedicated man can do when he puts his mind to it and his life into it.