Monday, April 15, 2019

Of Paris, Potheads and Jack Herer

I guess I'm feeling extra sad and nostalgic today because I'm watching Notre Dame burning, and it's the anniversary of the passing of "The Hemperor" Jack Herer.

I visited Paris and saw Notre Dame in 1991, which indirectly lead to my becoming a hemp activist. A man I met on the plane advised me to pray for guidance in my life and the next thing I knew, the rebel without a cause had found hers: hemp. The guy who got me into the movement wanted to meet me when he heard I'd gone to France tout moi-meme.

I started my journey as a hemp/marijuana activist at Herer's booth on Venice Beach (pictured), which is how we turned people onto hemp, one by one (we couldn't even get the word "hemp" into the newspaper at the time; they would always change it to "marijuana"). Only one person in 10 knew anything but "rope and dope" when I joined the hemp movement; after a few years, only 1 in 10 didn't know all about hemp. It was all done by the grassroots, and Jack was the leader.

Jack was self educated, but he would surprise you by doing things like speaking Korean in restaurants (he served in Korea during that war). Without Jack's tireless research (and his self-admitted ability to get others to help him) we would quite likely have lost the USDA's Hemp for Victory film, which as The Emperor tells, he had to go to D.C. to secure. His research and dedication re-invigorated the marijuana reform movement that had nearly been wiped out in the "Just Say No" 1980s.

I always said about Jack, he had a heart as big as all outdoors...and a voice to match. Once I heard him speak at the Oregon venue where later he suffered a stroke, leading up to his death from a heart attack in 2010. Standing at the far end of the football-field-sized venue, all the other speakers sounded like gobbeldygook until Jack took the stage and came through clear as a bell. The only comparable experience I've had was hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing at a stadium.

Jack used his voice well, stumping for hemp across the country and making The Emperor Wears No Clothes a million-copy seller. I traveled with him to Colorado in 1992 to work on a petition campaign, and worked with him to edit the 9th edition of The Emperor, watching him ponder over every line. We did this late at night at a Sunset Blvd. copyshop where renting computers after midnight was cheaper. One day he looked around and said, "Everything here could be made of hemp. The carpets, the computer terminals, the drapes..." While driving around he envisioned hemp fields everywhere. Now that we've effectively legalized hemp cultivation in the US with the new farm bill, Jack's vision is becoming a reality.

The section from The Emperor about famous people who smoked pot inspired my website and its spin offs, this blog and the book Tokin' Women. Moreover, Jack's often-repeated mantra that educating people about the many uses and history of hemp would change their minds about it is why my activism has always had an educational component.

The cover of Tokin' Women is "Women of Algiers," a painting by French artist Eugene Delacroix that I saw at the Louvre on my 1991 trip. In Paris this 4/21,  the film "Mary Janes: The Women of Weed" will screen at the Paris 420 Festival, hosted by NORML France.

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