Jack “The Terror” Herer


Born June 18, 1939 in Buffalo, NY. He was passionate about peace, freedom and the environment.  I went with that title for this post because I, like countless other people kept messing up his name. When I saw the film footage of him saying that the pronunciation of his name rhymes with terror, I thought yes! As well it should. I’m sure that pun was divinely intended. We are all here to learn and grow so I have no qualms about saying that I did not know as much about the man before today. I knew there was a strain named after him. Coincidentally one of my true favorites. I also knew he wrote the 1985 book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” about the history and cultural importance of hemp. In addition he is the founder of H.E.M.P. Help End Marijuana Prohibition. Herer and his longtime compatriot “Captain Ed” Adair, a head shop owner, had taken a vow ‘to work everyday for cannabis until it was legal, they’re dead or turned 84.’ Sadly his dear friend and fellow signature gatherer died of Leukemia decades before he’d turn 84. They felt foremost that the greatest injustice was for anyone to be imprisoned for cannabis for any reason at any time.

In the documentary Emperor of Hemp his life’s work is reflected, mainly through archival footage.  The term “Cult Folk Hero” was used by a friend/colleague to describe the activist. As the movie went along I too was inclined to agree with that picture of him. Several of the people interviewed did refer to him as somewhat rough or bullish. To me he seemed a classic character. All the way from the conservative middle class to being a social outcast to an icon of counterculture. I wax poetic. Frankly I’m upset because we’re just now beginning to resume the cultivation of  hemp in this country. Of course it’s great that it’s happening at all but purely from a practical standpoint it’s absurd that it’s taking this long to restore cannabis to the soil and supply chains of this country. This is why Jack Herer issued that challenge. He said he would give $50,000 to anyone who could refute cannabis being thee resource. That challenge was never accepted because no one can claim such a thing no matter how many lies they stand on. He had millennia of evidence on his side. All of our ancestors depended on it. Still people thought he was crazy.  It seems preposterous that advocating for industrial hemp could be viewed as more taboo than speaking out for marijuana law reform. Herer and NORML sincerely considered one another nemeses for quite a long while.  Even though there is major overlap in those issues another fact remains. Everyone has their own agenda and some people play politics better than others. If things were simple the man would not have been arguing for something every other industrialized nation already does with sound reason. Oddly this is starting to sound like universal health care.  Note that NORML did eventually acknowledge Herer in the form of a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Why wouldn’t we have a national, industrialized hemp industry? Besides special interests groups thwarting it?  No good reason.

There seemed to be a few key points Herer liked to make. Being a former republican and military veteran he was a patriot.  Consequently he kept addressing the fact that the ropes, sacks & sails of the European settlers’ ships, were made from hemp. On those same ships hemp products served as fuel, food and medicine. They even carried seeds specifically in the event of a shipwreck so they could survive and repair the ship. He also mentioned that in the 1790’s Thomas Jefferson ordered hemp to be planted. So as to avoid dependence on England, Russia and Italy. He was very keen on people knowing that the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are all written on hemp paper. Those are simple facts easily forgotten after a century of paper made from trees.

In 1916, the U.S. Government predicted that by the 1940s all paper products would come from hemp and that no more trees would need to be cut down. Government studies report that 1 acre of hemp equals 4.1 acres of trees. Plans were in the works to implement such programs. But major paper companies had other plans. Between 1916-1937, William Randolph Hearst created a media campaign to associate hemp with marijuana. Essentially lobbying for them both to be banned completely.

In all of the video clips I watched of Jack Herer, he seemed formidable but still somehow gentle. Frustrated and likely furious on occasion. I could see him wanting people to focus on what is right and just, only to be met with bureaucracy and conspiracy. Then again cannabis was deemed illegal here in the first place as a result of a cabal or 2. I suppose it’s fitting that the 21st century prophet of Earth’s finest fiber would meet with push back.

Fortunately in that decade of  many monumental comebacks, the ’90’s Herer and hemp based products began to get the recognition they deserved. He opened the HEMP Store on Venice Beach and continued to spread the word, push legislation and increase awareness until his death on April 15, 2010. I can’t help but find that a divine pun as well. He runs a nonprofit organization for the end of marijuana prohibition and he goes to glory on tax day. How American of you Mr. Herer. We sincerely salute your service.

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