I wonder if certain species of birds will start flying over North America again now that the hemp plant has been allowed to grow in abundance for the first time in almost a century. I can’t remember which species of birds of it was that started to change their international migratory pattern once their favorite food, hempseeds, was removed from the landscape of North America, and I can’t ask the person who told me because he’s no longer alive.
It was Jack Herer who told me this, along with two of my friends and several other people I didn’t know, in the upstairs bedroom of his Venice Beach bungalow on his birthday in 1990. He was smoking a fat joint we’d rolled him of our primo Oregon weed, and showing us his VHS copy of the movie Hemp for Victory. In his copy of the movie, he’d dubbed in a Congressional Apology, that was addressed to himself, from the United States Congress, apologizing for insinuating that he, Jack Herer, had invented the movie Hemp for Victory and that it wasn’t a real movie from the 1940s urging American farmers to grow hemp to support the troops of World War II. Some guy in a suit came up to a podium with the U.S. Congressional seal on it and gave the apology, all while Jack was laughing about it and blowing smoke rings towards the TV.
This was at the height of George Bush senior’s presidency, and the War on Drugs was in full effect. It seems laughable now to think that so many Americans could believe such utter nonsense as was being spewed by the U.S. government concerning the dangers of cannabis, but back then there was no internet, no way to easily fact check the propoganda machine, no way to easily learn such facts as that the U.S. government itself has long held many medical patents on the cannabis plant, even while deeming it a Schedule 1 Drug under the Controlled Substances Act, of which one of the criteria for being a Schedule 1 drug is that the substance has no known medical use.
But Jack Herer was already a famous cannabis activist to me at that time, as he’d written the definitive book on the realities of cannabis and hemp, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. He was the one who was doing the fact checking, and I have no idea how he came across the movie Hemp for Victory, or how he came across the many truths about cannabis that he included in his book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, truths that still hold true under close examination today. I also have no idea who first gave me a copy of that book, which in my memory is an oversized paperback with a black cover. But I do remember reading it greedily, absorbing the information and experiencing a sense of justice and righteousness as the real truths about cannabis, which I’d felt innately after using it, were revealed.
So it was with excitement and purpose that my friends and I accompanied the dreadlocked girl on Venice Beach as she closed down her hemp booth. We’d been strolling the beach, with a backpack full of Oregon’s finest, when we came across her stand. I remember perusing through her copies of High Times, looking at the photos of the buds, and saying, “Schwag…schwag…schwag”. The girl was offended at first, until I told my friend to open his backpack, which was literally stuffed full of Oregon weed. This was back when the white frosty nugs of 25% to 30% THC indoor-grown Oregon cannabis were worth more than gold, in both price and notoriety. No one had weed like this, or at least, very few people did, even in Oregon. In the summertime of 1990 Southern California, it was as rare as finding gold in the Los Angeles River. The girl’s eyes got wide, and she said, “We have to go to Jack’s house, today’s his birthday!!”. I said, “Jack who?”, to which she replied, “Jack Herer”. This was way before Jack Herer was the household name he is today among cannabis connoiseurs; there was no strain named after him, no reference to a certain type of fruity aroma in weed that is referred to as being indicative of “containing Jack”. But I knew the name right away, and I said, “You mean the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes?”, to which the girl replied yes.
So we embarked together to Jack’s house, and when we got there I remember being impressed by the sheer number of people in the room, and the variety of those people. Lounging around Xerox copiers and fax machines were people in suits, and dreadlocked hippies, and everyone in between, and it was my first exposure to the reality that cannabis cuts across all strata of the world's population, a fact that I’ve seen repeated in various international cannabis business conferences around the world in the past few years.
Jack was at the center of the room, expounding on cannabis facts to the delight of his audience (Jack always loved an audience). My friend with the backpack approached him and opened the backpack, showing Jack the weed. Before my friend could give Jack a bud, which he definitely was about to do, Jack reached in and grabbed the biggest cola bud and started tearing it in pieces, handing them out to the people in the room. I was incensed, and looked around the room and spotted several porcelain bongs, one of which was a white Grim Reaper bong with a little tray area below the metal bowl for keeping a small stash of soon-to-be-smoked buds. I walked over to the bong and grabbed it, and turned to Jack and said, “We’re keeping this bong for that bud you just took”. Remember, this was before Jack was elevated to holy cannabis guru status. He was just an arrogant New Yorker as far as I was concerned, and having grown up in Philly, I wasn’t impressed.
I can’t remember what happened next, but I do remember noticing the bong didn’t have any water in it, and was about to go put some water in the bong when Jack spoke up and recommended taking a dry bong hit, something to do with the water adversely affecting the smoke. I remember being confused about why someone would keep bongs around and not fill them with water, and wondering why not just use a pipe or roll a joint, but I still understood that as arrogant as his bud stealing had been, he still knew way more about weed than I did, so I did as he suggested and took a dry bong hit.
Looking back on this series of events now, I can’t remember that Jack was ever mad or upset that I’d told him we were taking his bong. It was after this incident that he invited us upstairs to view his copy of Hemp for Victory; perhaps he was impressed that I wasn’t acting like some starstruck fan and had actually called him on his bullshit. Whatever the reason, we ended up taking the bong back to Oregon with us, and I remember the three of us taking turns having it at our respective houses. I wish I could tell you I remember what happened to it, but I don’t.
Fast forward to 2017 in Berlin, Germany. I’m at a table full of cannabis industry insiders, including Ed Rosenthal and his wife Jane, at a microbrew bar called Meisterstuck (pronounced My-ster-stook). We’re trading cannabis stories and somehow Jack Herer comes up. Soon it’s a competition to see who knew Jack first, and when it came time to tell my story about meeting Jack on his birthday in 1990 in Venice Beach, California, I experienced one of those moments in life where everything seems connected. I’d gotten to the part about the girl running the hemp booth, when the woman across from me, who was the girlfriend of one of the business partners I worked for, finished my sentence for me. I looked at her and she said, “Oh my god, I was that girl at the hemp booth, it was me who took you to Jack’s house!”. Here we both were, 27 years later, halfway around the world in a small bar in Germany, reliving the same memories together. It was surreal.
Jack Herer with VaporDave's custom vaporizer, circa 2009.