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Who Is Jack Herer?

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Jack Herer (June 18, 1939 – April 15, 2010) was a pioneering writer, speaker, and activist in the modern movement to decriminalize and legalize cannabis in America. Sometimes called the Emperor of Hemp” or The Hemperor,” Herer fully believed that hemp could change — and save — the world if we just gave it a chance.

Herer was born in New York City, grew up to identify with Republican values (he even served as in the military police during the Korean War) and then moved to Los Angeles in 1967. It wasn’t until he was on the west coast that a 30-year-old Jack Herer discovered marijuana, and he instantly reinvented himself into a man who wanted to share his love of cannabis with the world. Herer immersed himself in the study and research of cannabis, and in 1973 he co-authored the zine G.R.A.S.S. (Great Revolutionary American Standard System: The Official Guide for Assessing the Quality of Marijuana on the 1 to 10 Scale) with Al Emmanuel. He opened the first hemp store and head shop in Venice Beach, California, then a family-owned shop Portland, Oregon, called The Third Eye, and founded the organization Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP).

He is perhaps best known for his 1985 book The Emperor Wears No Clothes’, the result of Herer’s more than 10 years of research into the history of hemp use and worldwide prohibition of cannabis. Herer began writing his famous work serving a two-week stint in federal prison in 1983 for refusing to pay a fine for registering voters in a parking lot, and it was quickly adopted as the manifesto of today’s cannabis legalization movement. It is still cited to this day by activists working to end marijuana prohibition and promote hemp for industrial purposes.

Jack Herer and Dana Beal. 1989 Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Fest in Madison Wisconsin

Jack Herer and Dana Beal at the September 1989 Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Fest in Madison, Wisconsin.

Underlying all of Herer’s undertakings was an ambition to legalize marijuana in America and the world. For nearly 40 years he traveled the country passionately campaigning for cannabis decriminalization and restoring the hemp plant as a staple of American agriculture. A charismatic and powerful speaker, Herer argued that cannabis was a renewable source of food, medicine, fuel, fiber, and paper pulp that could be grown the world over and that the U.S. was hiding evidence of the benefits of hemp and cannabis.

So synonymous is Jack Herer with the movement to legalize cannabis that he has a namesake strain of marijuana, and Las Vegas holds The Jack Herer Cup every year in his honor. Herer died April 15, 2010, from succumbing to the effects of a heart attack he suffered in September 2009, right after delivering a speech at Portland’s Hempstalk festival.

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