By Mary Otte
This 4/20, stoners around the world, in all their respective time zones, will be celebrating their love of marijuana with a sad note in the air. Jack Herer – the Hemperor, father of the modern hemp movement, outspoken cannabis champion, and a hero to us all – is gone.
But thankfully, there's no way he could be forgotten. It's not just that his writings live on, though The Emperor Wears No Clothes is without question an immortal classic. It's the fact that Jack touched so many lives just being the person that he was. Jack would sit down with, talk to, lecture or debate anyone interested in exploring his favorite topics – namely marijuana reform, government corruption and psychedelic mushrooms. When he graced a festival stage to make a speech, more often than not many in the room were brought to tears. Such are the ways of heart, honesty and enthusiasm, all qualities evident in each of Jack gesticulations. Even when he was telling you to go fuck yourself.
I originally met Jack in 2004 while I was working on a campaign to improve the medical marijuana laws in Oregon. Jack visited several times from his California home to help us raise funds with book signings and pot charity dinners. I'll never forget the first time he came to the offices after I'd started there. The day was spent printing out posters with The Emperor's cover and signing times, arranging vaporizers, hash oils and buds like a beautiful green buffet, admiring the pristine hemp edition of The Emperor that would go to a lucky door prize winner, and then there were multiple store runs for the ultimate spread of between-meal noshes. Jack loved a good, fresh bagel about as much as a fat hit off a J.
His arrival that day was all presence: He drove up in the gorgeously funky "Jack Van," a hippie leaning band of devoted entourage in toe, and boxes of books. Smiling and enthusiastic, his eyes – glazed but bright – met with all of the similarly reddened orbs lining the campaign office hallway, and that was it. I hadn't even read The Emperor yet and I knew the other marijuana crusaders I was working with were right, this man was a hero.
By the end of the campaign (2004 was a sad year for all lefty campaigns), Jack and I had built a bond. I couldn't get enough of his stories, he needed a new assistant in Northern California, and so I went. It would be an understatement to say that living in Lake County, spending much of 2005 alongside Jack, Jeannie, Eddie Lepp, and the talented growers of the Emerald Triangle simply changed my life.
As you would imagine, Jack was a very cool boss to have. Smoking on the job was encouraged, of course, and when one of those hazy sessions proved extra inspiring, Jack would talk in a free flow of wild information. He had decoded the Bible and it was ripe with psychoactive mushrooms. Those same mushrooms restored his speech after the stroke. He first could only recite poetry and sing songs when words started coming back to his lips. Stories abounded, as did verbatim clips of The Emperor. Hemp for food, hemp for fuel, hemp forever and ever and ever! We'd sing “Moon River” and Jack would recite “Casey at the Bat.” If you met him, you know. Jack was nothing if not consistent. He was also surly, demanding, always right ("I've never made a mistake! In twenty years, no one has proven me wrong!"), so stubborn (I thought I was stubborn!) as to be difficult to work for, but god damn it, his heart had no limits. At the end of each weed and reform soaked day, Jack couldn't have loved his wife, friends, family, and all the pot soldiers of the world more, and the feelings returned weren't just mutual, they were natural and boundless.
Though the years following Jack's major 2000 stroke were full of hurdles, and a great many of their hours were spent on recovery and the struggle for Jack to communicate at that same speed of light, there was no feebleness in this great man. Jack always pushed the envelope and he surrounded himself with those who pushed just as hard as he did.
Jack couldn't have given a damn less what anyone else thought of extreme measures. In fact, his two closest allies of recent years in the War on Prohibition are both now prisoners of the system. 2004 HIGH TIMES Freedom Fighter Eddy Lepp is serving 10 years for his 36,000+ plant field of marijuana, grown right alongside California Highway 20. Rick Simpson began his European political asylum in November 2009 – while Simpon was receiving his own HT Freedom Fighter award in Amsterdam, the Canadian authorities were raiding his hemp oil facilities.
It's true. Hemp could save the world. We could nourish via its seeds, run on its energy, heat with its fuel, medicate with its cannabinoids, rejuvenate the soil and clean up the atmosphere. But the first step is Jack's dream come true: the end of marijuana prohibition. Jack knew this couldn't be done with anything less than education. Remember his plea to tell your grandparents, your straight friends and anyone else who will lend an ear the truth about hemp. We must, because it truly is the only way.
Personally, I'm pledging to continue doing everything I can to see Jack's goals completed. Since he and his partner in non-violent crime, Captain Ed Adair, pledged to keep working until cannabis was legalized or until they turned 84, my goal is also to see pot liberated by the time Jack would have turned 84. That's June 2023, and I'm not adding an "if not," because we don't need it. The groundwork laid by heroes such as Jack has already paved the way. In fourteen years we've gotten 14 states, and with the momentum gained, another 14 years should see us already triumphant, celebrating 4/20 right out in the open, Double Barrel Double Venturi Ricocheting Vortex Effect pipes in hand, Jack Herer in our hearts.