An author, an activist, and “an emperor”? Jack Herer was born in June 1939 in Buffalo, New York and in one way or another he was all of those things. First and foremost he was an activist. For more than forty years, Jack Herer travelled the United States with the goal to convince the public that the hemp plant should be restored to its former place in American agriculture.

Not all of Jack Herer’s life had been devoted to the fight to decriminalize and legalize marijuana. Like other young men growing up in the 1950s, he dropped out of high school and joined the army. After coming back from his time in Korea, he started working as a sign painter. It was not until he turned 30, smoking his first joint, that he came into contact with marijuana. 1973, now living in Los Angeles, he left his sign business behind to open up a head shop in Venice Beach where he met “Capt.” Ed Adair, who was to become one of his closest friends for the rest of his life. Adair, too, had a head shop and had been involved in campaigns for legalizing marijuana for years. The friendship between the two men changed a lot in Jack Herer’s life who had not been politically active previously. They promised each other to keep fighting until cannabis was legal in the US. 


In 1981, Jack Herer served 14 days in prison because he had trespassed federal property in the attempt to collect signatures for a ballot petition concerning marijuana. After Jack Herer got out, he left L.A., moved to Portland, Oregon, opened up a new head shop, and started writing his most famous work “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”. In this non-fiction book, Jack Herer collected information and historical data about the cannabis plant and its various uses. It took Herer four years to complete his book and in 1985 he had it first printed on hemp paper. The book is now in its twelfth edition and continues to be used as a source for citation when the industrial use of hemp is discussed. For example, Jack Herer claims in the first chapter of his book that before Christ, “marijuana was our planet’s largest agricultural crop and most important industry, involving thousands of products and enterprises; producing the overall majority of Earth’s fiber, fabric, lighting oil, paper, incense and medicines.”


Herer’s book had a large part in starting the modern marijuana legalization movement. In it, he claimed that the government had banned hemp in 1939 unjustly and that the plant could among other things help prevent cancer, and that it was everyone’s right to get high whenever he or she wanted to. The book was also the foundation for much of Jack Herer’s travels throughout the US. He spoke at rallies and went to festivals where people would listen to him and his claims. The former sign painter achieved something of a celebrity status in the following years. In 1988 and 1992, Jack Herer ran for United States President as the Grassroots Party candidate and collected nearly 4,000 votes the second time. The public TV station, PBS made a documentary about his life, called “Emperor of Hemp”, which is where his well-known nickname originated.


 As cannabis-activist, Jack Herer’s personal life had been in somewhat of a turmoil since returning from Korea. He had been married three times and divorced three times, before he met Jeannie Hawkins and married her in 2000, aged 61. It was in the same year that his health problems showed themselves for the first time. He had a stroke and a minor heart attack at a hemp festival in Eugene, Oregon and had to endure a long recovery period in which he needed to reclaim the control over the right side of his body. According to Herer, it was treatment with the amanita muscaria, a psychoactive mushroom, and a daily dose of a concentrated marijuana oil that finally helped him back on his feet.

After the improvement of his health, Jack Herer took up the fight again and continued his travel-heavy routine. In September 2009, he was attending another event, the hempstalk festival in Portland, Oregon; he had held one of his speeches and suffered another heart attack as he was walking off the stage. Although Jack Herer survived the heart attack, he was never able to recover again. His wife jeannie rented a house in Eugene, where the two of them lived until Herer died on April 15, 2010 from late effects of the heart attack.

Herer is remembered by many who have been and still are involved in the legalization of marijuana, which is making great progress in the united states in recent years. In honor of his decade long struggle for cannabis, a sativa-dominant sativa/indica hybrid strain of cannabis has been named after Jack Herer. In his lifetime, Jack Herer had also founded and served as the director of the organization “help end marijuana prohibition” (hemp), another small advance in the fight for decriminalizing the cannabis plant.

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