The Emperor of Hemp: Who Really Was Jack Herer?

The Emperor of Hemp: Who Really Was Jack Herer?

Published on 8/17/21

You may know Jack Herer because of who he was within the world of cannabis, and you also likely know him from his namesake Jack Herer strain, one of the most iconic in cannabis history. Jack Herer (Jack Herer pronunciation: jak hair-er) was an advocate, revolutionary, author, and founding member of the Cannabis Action Network. His impact on cannabis in America cannot be understated, so let's take a look at his life and just how much he gave to cannabis advocacy. 

The Early Days of Jack Herer

Based on Jack's earlier years, he is an unsuspecting cannabis activist. Born in 1939, he was raised within a conservative family in Buffalo, New York, and is known to have been a well-to-do, model-citizen child. At 17, Jack joined the US Army and remained a vocal supporter of the military and the war in Vietnam through much of his young adult life. He was known as a  "Goldwater Republican," a term for individuals with similar political ideologies as the zealously conservative senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and was outspoken about hippies and anti-war protestors throughout most of the 60s. Up until his 30s, Jack Herer lived a very straight-edge life. He married early, had three kids by the time he was in his mid-20s and viewed individuals against American war efforts as un-American. He even famously threatened to leave his first wife after finding out she had once smoked weed. While this isn't the reason why he divorced his wife, they got a divorce in 1967, nonetheless. Herer then moved to Los Angeles and quickly discovered cannabis after a girlfriend persuaded him to try, and it changed everything. 

The Beginning of Jack Herer's Activism


For Jack, marijuana was a gateway to emotions and sensory appreciation that he'd never experienced. A revelation overcame him and, within a few years, Jack was an avid marijuana advocate. In 1973, along with friend and co-author Al Emmanuel, Jack published G.R.A.S.S: Great Revolutionary American Standard System, a cartoon book that claimed to be "The Official Guide for Assessing the Quality of Marijuana on the 1 to 10 Scale." The book was the first turning point in Herer's cannabis career and launched him into a semi-celebrity status within the world of marijuana. It was also in 1973 that Herer and began creating his own smoking accessories and opened their first hemp shop in Venice Beach. Along with fellow head shop owner, Ed Adair, it was also in 1973 that the two swore to fight for legalized marijuana until they succeeded or turned 84. 

Jail Time & the Birth of The Emperor Wears No Clothes


Jack's next milestone was in 1983 when he was registering people to vote in a public parking lot. Authorities asked him to leave and arrested him for trespassing on federal property when he refused. He was issued a $5 fine and by refusing to pay that fine, Jack was sent to federal prison for 14 days. It was while he was serving this jail time that Jack thought up and began writing what most claim to be his keystone accomplishment, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Once Jack was released from prison, he moved from Los Angeles up to Portland where he opened the icon head shop, The Third Eye Shoppe. The shop would later be run by his son, Mark, and closed due to local competition in 2017. Two years later, in 1985, The Emperor Wears No Clothes hit bookstores and became an instant success. After its publication, Jack became known as the "hemperor," and in 1994 the heavy-hitting, highly potent Jack Herer weed strain was created and given his name.

The Emperor Wears No Clothes

The Emperor Wears No Clothes (which is currently printing in its 12 edition) became known as the "The Bible of Hemp" and covered almost every aspect of marijuana and hemp. He argued marijuana's historical significance as a medicinal herb and hemp's underappreciated impact as an agricultural product for hundreds of years. He claimed that cannabis is the most versatile and applicable plant on earth and that its status as an illegal substance was a very recent phenomenon that has ties to racism and government propaganda to maintain control and perpetuate xenophobia. The book was a product of years of study and has since sold over 700,000 copies. Much of what Herer wrote had never been penned and while new to many at the time, the cornerstones of his argument for legal marijuana are the same foundational elements of current legalization efforts. The book is lauded as one of the biggest advancements in legalization efforts and has helped millions around the world better understand the significance of cannabis and the myths that now surround it. 

The Founding of the Cannabis Action Network 

After the success of his iconic book, Herer pursued more systematic approaches to cannabis reform. He ran for president as an independent with the Grassroots Party in 1988 and again in 1992. While he had little success on these fronts, he did help found the Cannabis Action Network in 1989, a result of the widespread popularity of The Emperor Wears No Clothes and the Jack Herer cannabis movement it inspired. The Cannabis Action Network, which still has several chapters throughout the US, was created to organize a national front for promoting the legalization of cannabis for medical, industrial, and personal uses. As an organization, the Cannabis Action Network has helped individuals through legal troubles and has spread accurate pro-cannabis information at the grassroots level. It is one of the many things that help continue Jack Herer's instrumental legacy. 

The Final Years of Jack Herer


While Herer helped build organizations like the Cannabis Action Network that would long outlive him, he also spent a lot of time at rallies and talking with people on the streets, handing out information and converting skeptics into pro-cannabis advocates. He would visit dozens of rallies at a time and continued to mainstage pro-cannabis events up until the last months of his life. Jack suffered his first heart attack in 2000 but recovered and lived an active life with the use of medical marijuana. He then suffered his second heart attack right after a Hempstalk Festival in Portland, Oregon in September 2009. During his speech at the festival, Herer had enthusiastically, in Jack Herer style, called out that cannabis was the greatest gift to man and that anyone who didn't smoke must be out of their mind. Unfortunately, he never recovered from the heart attack and died from complications on April 15, 2010. According to his son, Mark, his father hadn't paid taxes in over 30 years and that he'd be very happy with the irony of dying on tax day. And so, if you ask, "how did Jack Herer die," the answer is "the same way he lived," with an unforgettable point and appreciation for making his mark. 

Whether you're a fan of the iconic strain or have been influenced by his advocacy and book, let us know how Jack Herer has influenced you. Comment below!

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