Recently, while working on another project, I found my long-lost interview with the legendary marijuana activist Jack Herer.
Jack, of course, is one of the most important figures in the history of marijuana legalization;
perhaps The most important figure.
His classic muckrake, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, now in its updated 13th edition, has sold over 700,000 books worldwide and remains one of the most successful self-published books ever.
Despite an unconquerable spirit, Jack suffered from health problems for years and passed away in 2010 just as the movement he mid-wived was beginning to succeed.
This interview was conducted 25 years ago, before I worked for High Times magazine.
Back then, hemp was going to be the Next Big Thing and the Hemperor was riding high – VERY high – on the crest of that wave.
Our expectations were premature.
Hemp would never succeed without a U.S. domestic crop and that would never happen until cannabis was regulated.
But back in ’95 we were all full of piss and vinegar,
and we all thought the Hemp Revolution was right around the corner.
And that is the proper context for the following conversation 🙂
RC: You’re riding pretty high right now in the sense that hemp is coming around to the mainstream.
JH: You mean Ralph Lauren… Who’s the other fella?
RC: Calvin Klein. Ralph used hemp for the last 12 years, and Calvin said that he’s going to put it in starting in September.
JH: Yeah. Well, I think Calvin – I heard, I don’t know – Calvin Klein said he was going to make a lot of his stuff out of it. Well, what I think is the fucking world should get off of the synthetic fibers.
RC: Is hemp primarily an ecological issue for you?
JH: Well, for me it’s — No, it’s not primarily. It’s first of all a freedom issue, it’s an environmental issue, and ultimately those wind up in the quality of life. The point of The Emperor Wears No Clothes is here is the most productive plant on the Earth. There’s three million plants, they say. The number one cloth source, the softest cloth source, the warmest, the most water absorbent – the highest in every ideal, practically for clothing or cloth, for virtually anything – is hemp. And were you taught that in school?
JH: Were you taught that 85 percent of everything on Earth was made from this plant, in America and around the world, until this century? And nobody’s fucking mad about that? I mean, c’mon! We were taught flax and jute, and cotton we knew. But cotton was less than one tenth of one percent until the 1820s. Most people think that cotton was the only thing we had. It was in 1973 when I accidentally stumbled onto the information that hemp and marijuana were the same plant. I had written a book about marijuana and I didn’t even know hemp.
RC: You had already written a book about marijuana?
JH: Yeah. I had written a book in 1973, early ’73.
RC: What was it called?
JH: It was called, Grass: The Great Revolution & the American Standard System (G.R.A.S.S.) – Assessing the Quality of Marijuana On The One To Ten Scale For Insuring What You Have, Where You’re At & What To Pay. It was a coloring book too. It was a dope dealer’s book. You know, it was a funny book. And I didn’t know anything about hemp.
RC: How did you stumble across the information?
JH: It was actually a bunch of young kids. I was 33, 34 years old and a bunch of young kids who worked for the Marijuana Initiative had heard that marijuana had been used for cloth and canvas and ropes and then they learned that it had been used for paper. Now, I was writing for about five magazines out here, and (because of these kids) I suddenly stumbled on this information that hemp and marijuana were the same plant and then that hemp is the most important fiber on Earth. It was the most used fiber on Earth. Well, they outlawed it and we didn’t get pissed. The American people aren’t pissed. You’re not pissed. Unless you’re pissed — you see, you can’t let it be okay with you because then it’s okay with you and then they get away with this.
RC: How did the hemp manufacturers take this?
JH: Well, they went out and testified. They bitched and moaned about it. They said those taxes on the seeds are going to force the seed men, the seed growers, out of business.
RC: Did those men go out of business or laterally go to other crops?
JH: They just found other farm crops. They weren’t fighting the battle. They didn’t realize yet that hemp was the number one plant on Earth; there was no consciousness around it. Nobody had ever thought about it. We thought about it ’cause we were on acid. That’s all it was. A bunch of guys stoned out of our fucking gourd after writing about acid for eighteen months, probably about 30 stories in magazines and newspapers. We were the California Marijuana Initiative, and we were using the hemp information to kind of put a glaze on the eyes of the listeners and glorify the marijuana plant a little bit as hemp. As we began to do this it was a one-dimensional plant, and then two-dimensional; and then three dimensional, and pretty soon we could think of the extrapolations of hemp. And one day while we were on acid in 1974 – it could have been ’75 – my partner and I just extrapolated this information we had learned from reading the government reports for 18 months: the Agriculture Yearbook, all these other articles and papers, Popular Mechanics, Mechanical Engineering. By reading all these and comprehensively putting it all back together one night on acid.
RC: One night?
JH: One night. It was done in a fucking second. You know how acid is. A lot of your ideas on acid turn out pretty shitty, but sometimes you can have a brilliant breakthrough! We thought we were — [LAUGHS] – We thought we were really high! We thought we’d come down. We didn’t think we had caught the world: Look what we’ve discovered on acid!!