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November 1, 2022

The Jack Herer Story


Featured image for “The Jack Herer Story”

When I first met Jack Herer in the summer of 1990 (shown here in 2009 using my vaporizer) I had no idea that the woman who I met him through would be sitting across from me at a craft beer bar in Berlin four years ago.

Before meeting him in that summer of 1990, I had already read Jack’s pioneering book on cannabis, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, published in 1985. This book was the beginning of Jack Herer’s fame among cannabis connoiseurs, culminating with the cannabis strain—oops, better call it a cannabis cultivar for the new-school cannabis terminology police—named after him which is still popular today.

The summer of 1990 was in a more simple era, before the internet and before cellphones. You had to get creative when it came to finding ways to entertain yourself, and some college friends and I had traveled to LA from Eugene that summer to do nothing more than smoke Oregon weed on the sunny beaches of Southern California and look at all the interesting people. Apparently we were interesting ourselves, because at one point in Malibu a guy wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos asked us if he could buy some weed, and I was looking at the guy thinking where do you even have your money dude, down your Speedos next to your balls? Sure enough, he pulls out a wrinkled 100 dollar bill from the tiny confines of his skimpy bathing suit and asks how much he can get for that. My friend told him to put the money on the sand and he’d make up a baggie for him, which he then did. Just as I was thinking the only reason this guy even wanted to buy weed was because it would make his bathing suit bulge more attractively than a thin paper bill would, he takes the baggie from my friend and stuffs it down his Speedo bathing suit and strolls on down the beach. I still wonder to this day if the guy even smoked weed, or if he just did that to draw attention to himself.

But I digress, this story is about Jack Herer, not some rando in a pair of Speedos. From Malibu we hit up Venice Beach, a place I hadn’t been to since I’d skated there on my skateboard from Santa Monica during a family vacation when I was still in high school (my dad had found my stash of Oregon weed in the pocket of my shorts during that vacation and I’d taken off on my skateboard with no destination in mind, and ended up in Venice Beach, running into a girl from my high school in Portland who promptly refilled my weed stash and had some cold Coronas to boot, but that’s another story).

Strolling down the boardwalk in Venice—in which there were various entrepreneurs selling all kinds of things, some of them sitting on the sidewalk while others had more sophisticated booths—we happened upon a booth selling hemp products. In addition to the hemp products there were several issues of High Times magazine on display, and I took one and started browsing through it. None of the weed pix impressed me, living at that time in the home of the best weed in America: Eugene, Oregon. I was like “schwag”, “lame”, “weak” as I flipped through the pages. The girl running the booth noticed my comments and was like what are you talking about dude. I then opened my friend’s backpack, which he was wearing at the time, and told her to take a look. It was stuffed with the finest Oregon indoor, easily the best weed in the world outside of Amsterdam. Her eyes widened and she exclaimed (yes, she actually exclaimed, can you believe it?!) “we have to go to Jack’s house, today’s his birthday”. I was like, Jack who, and she told us Jack Herer, and then I was like, oh, yeah, that guy who wrote that book The Emperor Wears No Clothes and she was like yep, that’s him.

So off we went, with the girl quickly shutting down her hemp booth. It was within walking distance of the Venice boardwalk, and when I got there I was given my first glimpse into the future for what the business side of cannabis could be and could look like. Jack’s house was crowded with people, some of them wearing suits and ties and others in full dready-hippie regalia. There were fax machines and laser printers in the living room, and bongs everywhere. 

Immediately the girl introduced us to Jack, and my friend with the super amazing weed showed his backpack to Jack, who apparently felt entitled to a free bud, as he reached his hand into the bag and pulled out the biggest one he could find. I was not impressed, as of course we would have given Jack some weed for free, not only because of his notoriety from his book on cannabis but also because it truly was his birthday, with a cake in the shape of a pot leaf sitting as-yet-uneaten on the kitchen counter. But for him to just act all entitled like that with my friend’s super amazing weed was too much for me at the time, and I declared to him and the room at large that I was going to take one of his bongs for that bud, which I did. It was a porcelain bong, of the type that were very popular in the 1980s, this one in the shape of a Grim Reaper with a little flat area in front of the bowl where you’d put your weed. It was on Jack’s fireplace mantle, and I took it down and put it in my friend’s backpack (there was no water in it, which I found out later from Jack was how he preferred to take his bong hits, some scientific reason about what the water did to the smoke and how it was harmful in some way). Jack didn’t really seem to care, as he continued talking to us and distributing the bud he’d taken, pulling it apart and handing out bong-hit sized pieces to anyone within arm’s reach.

At some point later, it could have been five minutes or two hours, Jack offered to take us upstairs to his bedroom to show us his VHS copy of the U.S. government produced film Hemp For Victory. This was a propoganda movie made in the early 1940s, exclaiming the virtues of the hemp plant and how American farmers should grow it for the war effort. Apparently someone in government denied the involvement of the U.S. in the making of that movie, and slandered Jack by saying he’d made up the part about the movie being put out by the U.S. government. Jack was able to somehow prove it was an official government movie (which if you watch it is so obvious it’s hard to understand how the goverment could deny it), and he was very animated upon starting the movie, saying “this is the best part” as he’d dubbed in footage of the U.S. government giving him a pardon for falsely claiming he was a liar. There was Jack, smoking a fattie and pontificating about how certain species of migratory birds ceased flying over the U.S. once cannabis was outlawed in 1937 by the American government, because the seeds of the cannabis plant were the birds’ favorite food (this discrepancy in the fact that weed was outlawed in 1937 yet the movie promoting it was produced in the 1940s is probably the reason for the vehement denial by the American government that they’d ever made such a movie, wink wink).

I don’t remember leaving Jack’s house, or what we did immediately afterwards, but I do remember that we took his bong back to Oregon and that those of us who had been there that day took turns keeping the bong at their respective houses for many years. It was unfortunately in my possession when a neighbor knocked it over and broke it, so sad and tragic, not to mention the horrible bong water smell lol.

Fast forward to 2018, and I was sitting at a table inside Das Meisterstück, a craft beer bar in Berlin. We had just concluded the first day of the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC), of which I was the Creative Director, and somehow there was a contest of sorts as to who had known Jack Herer the longest. My friend who runs the ICBC thought he had us all beat, saying he’d first met Jack in 1992, and I thought for sure that I would win the I’m-So-Cool award since I had met Jack in 1990. I was in the middle of telling this story when one of the speakers we’d invited to speak at our event, a woman whose name I’m not revealing here since I haven’t asked her permission to use her name in this long-winded trip down memory lane, exclaimed (yes, she exclaimed again, all these years later, can you believe it?!) “oh my god, no fucking way, I was the girl who was running that hemp booth”. What a surreal moment that was, to be sitting across from a woman whose headshot I had put on our website and in our printed program guide, knowing that she and I had met in Venice Beach all those years ago and had never seen nor heard from one another again, and now here we were, meeting again for the first time in 28 years halfway around the world. 

You know how this story ends of course. It was then determined that in fact it was she who had known Jack Herer the longest, and she got the You’re-So-Cool award, perhaps the most important award a person can get at a table full of beer drinkers.