By Paul Krassner
In 1973, “Captain” Ed Adair, Jack’s partner in the marketing of countercultural items, insisted that they take a joint oath: “We swear by our life, and our love for it, that we will work every day of our lives, all day, all night, to legalize pot – until we’re dead, or it’s legal, or we can quit when we’ve turned 84.”
In 1980, they began a series of protests on the front lawn of the Los Angeles Federal Building that would last for as many as 100 days at a time. The demonstrators would feed and provide clothes and portable bathrooms for volunteers attempting to get legalization initiatives onto the local and state ballots. On the flagpole, they even hung a huge marijuana-leaf banner right beneath the American flag.
One morning in January of 1981, President-elect Ronald Reagan came to LA. It was five days before his inauguration, and he needed a haircut from his favorite barber. With his entourage of Secret Service agents, Reagan visited the Federal Building. “You’re doing a fine job,” he told the manager, “and I want you to know that you can bring any of your problems to us. Incidentally, why are those Canadians on the lawn?” Reagan had mistaken the five-pointed hemp leaf for the maple leaf featured on the Canadian flag.
“They’re not Canadians,” the building manager explained. “Those are the marijuana protesters, and they live down there 24 hours a day.”
“Well,” said Reagan, “I’ll be on the job in a few days, and I‘ll see what I can do for you.”
A week later, after only two days in power, the Reagan administration renewed a World War II–era anti-sabotage act, which had originally been passed in 1943 as a wartime measure to prohibit anyone, such as saboteurs, from being on federal property after regular business hours. As a result, Jack and five others were arrested for registering voters on federal property after dark. But Jack refused to accept a year of unsupervised probation and pay the maximum fine of $5 (the original amount specified in the law, which had been re-enacted so hastily that federal authorities neglected to adjust it for inflation). He was sentenced to 14 days in jail.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Jack once told me. “I had never been given the opportunity to write so clearly and without interruption.”
In his dreary cell, Jack composed an outline for The Emperor Wears No Clothes: The Secret History of Hemp and the Conspiracy Against Marijuana. Self-published and without major distributors, wholesalers, advertising or reviews, the book became an underground classic – never officially recognized as a best-seller, though it has sold over 700,000 copies.
My favorite anecdote about Jack comes from another outspoken visionary, Gatewood Galbraith, who’ll be running for governor of Kentucky next year.
“When Bill Bennett was named the Drug Czar,” Galbraith recalls, “he held a news conference at the National Press Club. So Jack and I rented the room next to them, and he gave an anti–Drug Czar talk. Jack wore a three-piece pinstripe suit – the first time he had a suit on in 30 years. He looked like a heavyweight Phineas T. Freak Brother, and he was so funny. He said, ‘Gatewood, this is a national news conference, and I have a very serious question.’ I said, ‘What’s that, Jack?’ And he said, ‘Should I take three hits of acid, or six?’ So I said, ’Suit yourself.’ He said, ‘Okay, six.’ He took six, and he went up there and gave a brilliant performance.”
In 1994, at the Seventh Annual Cannabis Cup, a new strain of marijuana, four years in development, was christened “Jack Herer.” Jack mused: “Long after I‘ve died, people will be smoking Jack Herer.” It may not have been that particular brand, but the mourners at his funeral were sure smoking something.
The full story behind Krassner losing his mind is included in the expanded edition of his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, available at paulkrassner.com.