Drug Policy

Jack Herer, RIP


I first read Jack Herer's book The Emperor Wears No Clothes back in 1993, while researching a Reason cover story about the marijuana reform movement. It was the 1990 edition, designed and edited by Chris Conrad, who called the original, 1985 version "a diamond in the rough." It was still pretty rough: an outsized paperback with newsprint pages and a cover featuring what looked like a green clip-art collage that included images of cannabis plants, a printing press, a tractor, a coiled rope, a fuel pump, a deer flanked by a butterfly and a bird, and Earth as seen from space. Perhaps because the title itself was so vague, the cover included a kicker—"HEMP & THE MARIJUANA CONSPIRACY"—as well as a subtitle: "The Authoritative Historical Record of the Cannabis Plant, Hemp Prohibition, and How Marijuana Can Still Save the World." Writing that "the problems with the hemp-as-wonder-plant strategy are pretty obvious," I quoted Kevin Zeese, then vice president of the Drug Policy Foundation:

That wing [of the movement] presents the marijuana user as a stereotype that frightens society–the long-haired hippie. It scares people….It comes across as, "This is the wonder drug that can save the world, the environment, the trees, the fuel supply; it can heal the blind and crippled." It really sounds like a snake-oil salesman, even though there's a lot of truth to it.

I also argued that Herer and his followers, no matter how sincere, risked being perceived as disingenuous:

After all, hemp's main use in the United States today is not for paper or cloth or fuel. Any mildly skeptical person, upon hearing a guy with a long beard in a tie-dyed shirt talk about the wonderful versatility of the hemp plant, is going to have a pretty good idea what's really on his mind. The appearance of deceit only makes getting high seem all the more sinister: If there's nothing wrong with it, what are they trying to hide?

I still think there is some validity to those concerns, but they should not detract from Herer's impressive accomplishments in arousing curiosity, generating enthusiasm, and making prohibitionists look bad. His book, published in the middle of the Just Say No era, demonstrated how our view of hemp has been warped by the government's campaign against marijuana. For someone unfamiliar with this story, the most startling parts of The Emperor Wears No Clothes are not at all dubious. Regardless of whether William Randolph Hearst banged the drum against marijuana because he wanted to eliminate competition in the paper business, or whether pharmaceutical and petrochemical interests supported prohibition for similar reasons, the story of how this plant was banned is astonishing: the ignorance, the racism, the blitheness with which legislators voted to criminalize something they knew nothing about. Fully half of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which according to Herer's website has sold more than 600,000 copies, consists of reproduced material, including  transcripts of the Senate hearings on the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, anti-marijuana articles from that period, the script from the federal government's Hemp for Victory propaganda film, and scientific articles about hemp's uses, along with contemporary criticism of the war on drugs.

Contrary to my misgivings, the hemp movement and industry that Herer inspired helped bring marijuana reform into the mainstream by offering legal products (hemp bags, hemp clothes, hemp cosmetics, hemp food) that carried an implicit message about cannabis yet could be purchased and consumed with plausible deniability: I'm not a pothead; I just really like hemp seed granola. At the same time, the over-the-top reaction to this cultural threat from drug warriors showed that Herer was on to something. The Drug Enforcement Administration repeatedly tried to ban hemp foods, even though they are not psychoactive and are plainly permitted by federal law (as a federal appeals court pointed out). It insisted that the government could not simultaneously enforce marijuana prohibition and allow cultivation of industrial hemp, even though many other countries manage to do so. These positions can only be understood as a reaction against the symbolic significance of the hemp industry, which drug warriors see as a rebuke to their pharmacological fanaticism. We can thank Herer, who was born two years after Congress enacted marijuana prohibition and died yesterday at the age of 70, for helping to create an environment in which grown men tremble at the sight of hand cream and snack bars.


NEXT: Bill Clinton: Tim McVeigh Hated the Guv'mint Too

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I commend those industrialists and scientists who came up with poison-free alternatives to the narcotic hemp.

    1. Too bad hemp isn’t a narcotic. Industrial hemp only contains 0.3% THC. The only thing you’ll get from smoking it is a headache. Do some research before you post or you’ll look like a fool.

      1. It’s well known that Juanita is a puppet for an active poster here. Just trollin’ for laffs.

        1. isn’t.

    2. juanita; I sincerely hope for your sake that your statement is wry humor.

      Many of us have now finally wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation, which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco –two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

      There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection, then maybe you’re using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody ‘halfway bright’ and who’s not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding, that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem; it is our refusal to let legal businesses meet that demand.

      No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer; only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

      If you support prohibition then you’ve helped trigger the worst crime wave in history.

      If you support prohibition you’ve a helped create a black market with massive incentives to hook both adults and children alike.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped to make these dangerous substances available in schools and prisons.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped raise gang warfare to a level not seen since the days of alcohol bootlegging.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped create the prison-for-profit synergy with drug lords.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped remove many important civil liberties from those citizens you falsely claim to represent.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped put previously unknown and contaminated drugs on the streets.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped to escalate Theft, Muggings and Burglaries.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped to divert scarce law-enforcement resources away from protecting your fellow citizens from the ever escalating violence against their person or property.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped overcrowd the courts and prisons, thus making it increasingly impossible to curtail the people who are hurting and terrorizing others.

      If you support prohibition you’ve helped evolve local gangs into transnational enterprises with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, controlling vast swaths of territory with significant social and military resources at their disposal.

      1. Well, neither alcohol nor tobacco nor recreational drugs need to or should be “properly regulated” by the government. The government should not be involved with what substances we choose to ingest into our own bodies at all. The only extent the government should be involved in our lives and our choices is to protect our liberties.

        1. There’s a point! I’m kinda sick of the cozy relationship some American marijuana reform advocates have with High Times and NORML. The answer is NOT letting the US govt dispense our weed and tax it heavily. It just seems un-libertarian to support heavy regulation on one of the safest substances in the world.

          1. yeah, fuck government controlled weed. hell even highly regulated alcohol distribution through the government is total shit: higher prices, less choice, shitty hours.
            look at the University of Mississippi marijuana research program; they are stingy with who they will provide it to for research, there are like 10 patients they allow to get it, and the quality is TERRIBLE. check out pics/vids of the huge drums of weed they have, it looks like shit and its stored for years so it loses a lot of potency. I read one of the fed patients say that the feds sent her a tin of marijuana that was from like a dozen years ago. that does not meet the standards for plant based medication.
            and now we have New Jersey and New Mexico which have the worst mmj laws. who the hell wants the government growing weed, if the feds weed is any indication it will be shit. plus in NJ they refuse to allow patients to grow their own. they need to make it like any other medicine, let the manufacturers and distributors make a profit.

  2. We need scientists to come up with non-toxic trolls. Or at least better ones.

  3. Jack Herer was a pioneer who helped lay the groundwork for a growing industry based on products that include Hemp.

    Dr Bronner’s Soap includes hemp oil, and several other natural soap manufacturers haved added hemp oil to their formula.

    Hemp based textiles can be found in clothes, wallets, backpacks & other products from Ecolution, Artisan Gear and other companies.

    Others too have promoted Hemp as a source of oil and fiber for manufacturing, but Jack Herer really popularized the idea among people already pushing to legalize marijuana.

    In 1994 Jack endorsed me for Congress, and bought a copy of Atlas Shrugged from me. Actually, he traded 3 copies of Emperor Wears No Clothes for a hardcover of Atlas.

    A sad loss, but he should be remembered for what he accomplished.

  4. The only organic material more versatile than hemp is my pubic hair.

    1. I’d love a chance to test that theory!

    2. Perhaps I could braid it with my mustache and wink at you whilst yodeling “Amazing Grace”?

  5. Once again Juanita you come up short when we both know you can do better. Back to your room, dear, until you produce some effort at your true potential.


    … Hobbit

  6. “After all, hemp’s main use in the United States today is not for paper or cloth or fuel.”

    Actually that is all it is used for. Technically the word “hemp” refers to the fibrous material of the Cannabis plant, mainly of Cannabis Sativa. They don’t make rope out of the flowers (marijuana).

    1. there are a lot of other things made with it, there is even a composite plastic made out of hemp.

  7. wir bieten[url=http://www.wowgold4europe.de/CDK/wow-cd-keys-prepaid-game-cards-DE.aspx] wow key [/url] bei Gamesavor

  8. It was Jack who taught me that Hemp and Marijuana are the same plant, stalks are used for fiber and flowers are used for smoking and medicine! I am honored to be the editor of the last edition of Jacks wonderful book. I think I must have read that book 1000 times or more. I am so inspired by Jack that I am running for sheriff in Gallatin County Kentucky, and I will protect the rights of people who need medical marijuana!

  9. Wow, the world did indeed lose an incredible man!


  10. R.I.P Jack God bless you for pushing the movement forward!

  11. Huh, Gates and Herer. There’s still balance in the world.

  12. Meh. I think you are just woefully underestimating the governments desire to ban everything even vaguely drug related. I mean, when the the government bans cold medicine, are they doing some symbolic measure? No, they think some morons will make meth out of it.

    Or why you have to be over 18 to buy any sort of glue or spray can.

    Frankly, it’s a miracle alcohol is legal.

    1. In a perfect world alcohol would be illegal. A 5$ per drink tax would allow moderate consumption while confining alcoholism to the wealthy and the criminals.Don’t prohibit alcohol just tax and regulate it more to limit the ravaging effects.”Joe Six-Pack” wouldn’t do much drunk driving with a 30$ tax on his habit.

      1. That could work. Since we all know it’s impossible to make alcohol out of anything as simple as some sugar, water and yeast.

        1. Why do you think they’re trying to ban sugar?

          1. Then they’ll ban all fruits, grains and cereals.

            1. I got this wicked recipe for Soy-patty based Vodka.

              Whatever shitty preprocessed food they allowed in that scenario could still be turned into alcohol.

            2. Absolut Soylent (TM)

      2. Do not feed the troll. Please.

      3. Juanita; Like it or not, there has never been, and nor will there ever be, a drug-free society; the use of addictive or recreational drugs is a natural part of human existence. Nobody here is claiming that any substance is beneficial for either the individual or society. It is true however that certain substances help the soul heal and relieve pain while others provide short-term relief from a monotonous existence at the risk of possible long-term health problems.

        An important aspect of Individual freedom is the right to do with yourself as you please as long as your actions cause no unnecessary suffering or direct harm to others. Many among us may disagree with this, and they should be free to believe what they wish, but the moment they are willing to use force to impose their will on the rest of us, is the exact same moment that the petty criminals/dealers, the Mafia, drug barons, terrorists and corrupt government officials/agencies enter the equation. The problems created by self harm then rapidly pale into insignificance as society spirals downwards into a dark abyss, while the most shady characters and ‘black-market corporate entities’ exponentially enrich themselves in a feeding frenzy likened to that of piranhas on bath-tub meth.

        1. A bathtub full of piranas and meth, dear god! That sounds more dangerous than a bear with a chainsaw.

  13. We will always have adults who are too immature to responsibly deal with tobacco alcohol, heroin amphetamines, cocaine, various prescription drugs and even food. Our answer to them should always be: “Get a Nanny, and stop turning the government into one for the rest of us!”

    Nobody wants to see an end to prohibition because they want to use drugs. They wish to see proper legalized regulation because they are witnessing, on a daily basis, the dangers and futility of prohibition. ‘Legalized Regulation’ won’t be the complete answer to all our drug problems, but it’ll greatly ameliorate the crime and violence on our streets, and only then can we provide effective education
    and treatment.

    The whole nonsense of “disaster will happen if we end prohibition” sentiment sums up the delusional ‘chicken little’ stance of those who foolishly insist on continuing down this blind alley. As if disaster wasn’t already happening. As if prohibition has ever worked.

    To support prohibition is such a strange mind-set. In fact, It’s outrageous insanity! –Literally not one prohibitionist argument survives scrutiny. Not one!

    The only people that believe prohibition is working are the ones making a living by enforcing laws in it’s name, and those amassing huge fortunes on the black market profits. This situation is wholly unsustainable, and as history has shown us, conditions will continue to deteriorate until we finally, just like our forefathers, see sense and revert back to tried and tested methods of regulation. None of these substances, legal or illegal, are ever going to go away, but we CAN decide to implement policies that do far more good than harm.

    During alcohol prohibition, all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. Young men died every day on inner-city streets while battling over “turf” while we wasted a fortune on enforcement instead of on treatment. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs we also missed out on billions in tax. Finally the economy collapsed. Sound familiar?

    In an underground drug market, criminals and terrorists, needing an incentive to risk their own lives and liberty, grossly inflate prices which are further driven higher to pay those who ‘take a cut’ like corrupt law enforcement officials who are paid many times their wages to look the other way. This forces many users to become dealers themselves in order to afford their own consumption. This whole vicious circle turns ad infinitum. You literally couldn’t dream up a worse scenario even if your life depended on it. For the second time within a century, we’ve carelessly lost “love’s labour” , and, “with the hue of dungeons and the scowl of night”, have wantonly created our own worst nightmare.

    So should the safety and freedom of the rest of us be compromised because of the few who cannot control themselves?

    Many of us no longer think it should!

    1. True, Medical Marijuana was a step towards legalization and disaster didn’t happen. In fact, use went down by youth:
      “Nine years after the passage of the nation’s first state medical marijuana law, California’s Prop. 215, a considerable body of data shows that no state with a medical marijuana law has experienced an increase in youth marijuana use since their law’s enactment. All have reported overall decreases of more than the national average decreases — exceeding 50% in some age groups — strongly suggesting that enactment of state medical marijuana laws does not increase teen marijuana use….”


    2. We will always have adults who are too immature to responsibly deal with Life


      1. Right, but there’s no need to ban religion just because it enables people like that…

  14. The death of Jack Herer has and will continue to have various effects on not only fellow activists, the movement, industry, but friends, family, admirers, fans, and then there are those like myself who as I sit here “torn in tears”, writing this have very much been a part of all the above at some point and in some way so I am least to say, saddened by this but know and hope this inspirers many that this is the time go above and beyond what one man has done for us all during his life. We Love you Jack you will be missed!

    Kron – San Diego – ccpmeds@yahoo.comhttp://www.nugmag.com

  15. “I still think there is some validity to those concerns?”

    Jacob, please. You can do better.

  16. WAY better than the California initiative is Washington’s I-1068 which offers complete legalization with absolutely no regulation, as befitting the safest and most beneficial plant on earth. Check out the official website at http://sensiblewashington.org/ and wish us luck petitioning to get it on the ballot.

    1. California has a legalization initiative on the ballot now! It isn’t perfect, but it is a good step.

  17. There never, ever,in history, has been a prohibition that has not been eventually abandoned as unattainable.The first, adam and eve’s tree of knowledge, the forbiden fruit. The spanish inquisition, carried on by the third riche. Hell there isn’t even a drug free prison.

    1. What is a “third riche”? And what did it carry?

      There was Lionel Richie and Sophie Richie. What is the third Richie?

      Seriously, what did the Spanish Inquisition prohibit that was abandoned as unattainable? Are you just putting words on this page just to be able to read something from yourself?

      Assuming that you meant Third Reich, its prohibitions ended when allied forced crushed the government. It never voluntarily abandoned any of its prohibitions. In fact, they increased in number into the last two years of the regime.

  18. The appearance of deceit only makes getting high seem all the more sinister: If there’s nothing wrong with it, what are they trying to hide?

    Same thing applies to those sinister closeted-gays.

  19. Jack Herer, may we continue to HEAR the thunder of your voice calling us to action, to SMELL the heavenly aroma of the Cannabis Hemp Plant, to TASTE the lovely fruits of hemp foods that are so healthy for us, to FEEL the luscious touch of hemp clothing against our bodies and to SEE Cannabis Hemp legalized and respected ,as it once was in the past! You brought us all so much knowledge about Hemp, that was hidden from us for decades! Thank you for not giving up, when people didn’t, at first, believe you. You told me that everyone even laughed at you, thought you were a “crazy loon” and wouldn’t even read your book. You walked Venice Beach and talked to every person who would listen to you about Hemp. You walked your talk and talked your walk until “THEY”, finally, believed you! The truth came to light, as it always does! I have found COURAGE & FREEDOM with your words of advice and wisdom! I miss your beaming smile that always lit up when you were happy to see someone you loved, your strong but gentle hugs and your calls asking me “what are you doing, now?” For NOW is when we need to act to see the change we desire. What you brought to the WORLD was a gift of love and hope for a dying planet! Your Mom, I’m sure, is so proud of you (as we all are) and I know she is happy to have you with her, now! (You’ve always missed her, so!) Jack, I wish you sweet, sweet peace, dear heart, and may the rest of us aspire to continue what you have started!

  20. Jack Herer wrote one of the best pop cultural books on all things cannabis. Global Hemp is interested in only the industrial aspects of hemp as a solution to many of the world’s environmental problems. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the spotted owl was chosen as a method to curb logging of old growth forests. Many environmental groups have performed many similar protests, but few have been able to go beyond pointing out a the problem. Solutions are necessary and hemp is an excellent fiber for producing paper. Of course, many environmental groups do not want to associate with hemp. They could easily educate the public, but choose not to. There is a wealth of information on industrial hemp at the Global Hemp website. http://www.globalhemp.com/

  21. Funny, sad and ultimately pathetic, but much of the legalize weed movement and a laughable portion of So Cal’s MMJ industry are in the bag Lefties.

    Willing to give up nearly all property and wealth rights in exchange for a little toke is no way to go through life.

    1. My experience has been the same. The majority of cannabis legalization advocates are socialists. They want a daily high and a government hammock in which to enjoy it.

      1. Make no mistake, the biggest majority of cannabis legalization advocates are tax paying, hard working and god fearing Americans who believe we have every right to enjoy our pursuit of freedom as you do. Like the founding fathers, I grow my own smoke and also I don’t own a hammock. :p

  22. Concern troll much?

    Every knows that hemp products for clothing and other purposes aren’t good for smoking.
    Seriously. This one time, when everyone in the collective was really hard up, we tried smoking the jewelry. Couldn’t get high at all. On the other hand my ex Mary (they call him that cause he smokes so much), cut off one of my dreads and said he got high smoking it. Maybe that’s cause i’ve been using the marijuana infused shampoo we make.

  23. hey if anybody wants a sick documentary to watch check out The Union:the Business Behind Getting High shits the mad note BONG!!!!!

  24. ***relaxation therapy for snoring?
    Trying not to be over-strained in the daytime: defatigation both physically and psychologically may lead to the strain and fatigue in spirit and muscle. If you are really busy in the daytime, slow and deliberate your mind and body, such as take a tepid bath, enjoy a massage, listen to the soft music etc. And then you will have a better sleep.

  25. ***relaxation therapy for snoring?
    Trying not to be over-strained in the daytime: defatigation both physically and psychologically may lead to the strain and fatigue in spirit and muscle. If you are really busy in the daytime, slow and deliberate your mind and body, such as take a tepid bath, enjoy a massage, listen to the soft music etc. And then you will have a better sleep.

  26. R.I.P. Jack, thanks for everything you did over the years.. damn we’re going to miss you.

  27. Prohibition does not work, just ask Adam and Eve

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.