The Inside Dope on Jack Herer
You can’t call marijuana Girl Scout Cookies anymore, because the Girl Scouts of America send cease-and-desist orders to pot brands who use the name. Same goes for Gorilla Glue, named for a real glue product that has threatened lawsuits because that name belongs to them.
But one strain name that did belong to someone else retains its colloquial title. Jack Herer has been one of the world’s most popular strains since it first won the High Times Cannabis Cup in 1994, named for a cannabis crusader of yesteryear. His son Dan Herer carries the name on with a brand of flower and vape oil called The Original Jack Herer.
“We feel Original Jack Herer is the best authentic Jack that’s out there,” Dan Herer tells SF Weekly. “It’s a multi-decade old genetic, it’s grown with love and intention. There are many folks that produce a product that they put my father’s name on it, but we feel the product we produce stands out.”
Jack Herer (pronounced HAIR-er, “It rhymes with terror,” he would often joke) was a marijuana cult hero for the better part of 30 years. He’s best known for his watershed book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which recast cannabis from a party drug into a plant of great economic and environmental value, and relayed how people had relied upon on the herb for centuries.
A sort of “Abbie Hoffman for pot” rabble-rouser, Herer was a far-right Republican and military policeman in post-war Korea who had a cheeba change of heart that led him to open a Los Angeles head shop in the early 1970s.
“He started a 50-year long crusade,” the younger Herer says. “That crusade started in 1972 with Proposition 19, which was the first cannabis or marijuana initiative in the United States.” The measure to legalize pot failed by a wide margin. But Herer kept trying to register voters and get legal marijuana back on the ballot, year after year.
This led to an unfortunate 1981 encounter with then-President-elect Ronald Reagan. When Herer and company were gathering petition signatures outside a federal building in Los Angeles, Reagan’s motorcade rolled by. Reagan thought they were Canadian protesters, because he thought the marijuana leaf on their flag was a Canadian-flag maple leaf.
Reagan ordered that the entire bunch be arrested. A lenient judge offered the protesters a mere $5 fine if they just pled guilty and got it over with, but Herer refused on principle. He was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison, where in his long, idle hours, he wrote the outline to The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
First published in 1985, the book would go on to sell at least 700,000 copies, and has been published in as many as seven different languages.
“This book really became the foundation of modern-day cannabis and hemp legalization,” Herer says. “That book brought my father a great deal of notoriety.”
The Emperor Wears No Clothes was a longform historical treatise on how cannabis hemp had been used from the 1600s up until the early 1900s to produce food, housing, clothing, paper, and medicine. The book also detailed how industrial hemp biomass had the potential to disrupt the petrochemical and fossil fuel industries for a more sustainable future. And of course, the book developed a fandom in the pot paradise of Amsterdam.
“There was a gentleman in Holland named Ben Dronkers who was given a copy of the book,” says Herer. “Ben was a farmer, he grew cannabis, and he was a breeder. “He subsequently named a strain after my father, which many people know today as ‘Jack Herer.’”
That strain became an international sensation when it won Amsterdam’s High Times Cannabis Cup in 1994. But these were the full-on outlaw days when medical marijuana was not even legal yet, and cannabis strains were illegally transferred through an underground market of seeds and clones.
That would begin to change in 1996 when one piece of Herer’s longtime dreams and efforts came true — California legalized medical marijuana with the passage of Proposition 215. While there were still no legal dispensaries, there were collectives and co-ops that did openly sell the product (though they were often raided by police).
“As the plant was allowed on the black market through these co-ops, people who were sick or wanted to use this cannabis they knew was related to the man Jack Herer started requesting it,” Herer says. “That want from the community started to grow the notoriety of both the man and the plant.”
The legend of “Jack Herer” the plant, known for its distinctive smell, taste, and potent high, soon became every bit as famous as Jack Herer the marijuana advocate. As legalization started to sweep across the country, first as medical marijuana and then as recreational, the pot strain became the more famous Jack Herer.
“Folks during the ’90s knew both the man and the flower,” the younger Herer points out. “Since then, there’s been some change in the space where people have grown up with access. They haven’t had to be activists within their communities, because cannabis was already accessible.”
That’s why Dan Herer founded the Herer Group, an umbrella cannabis company that produces vape pens, cartridges, and of course, the Original Jack Herer flower and prerolls.
“Once there was legal cannabis in California, we started showing the name Jack Herer on the product and showing the man on the flower,” he tells us. “We just wanted to let people know that Jack was not just the name of the strain, but the Original Jack Herer brand is the representation of my father’s lifelong work and activism that gave us the opportunities we have today in the commercial cannabis space.
“There’s something about it when you smell it and consume it; the smell, the taste, the high. We think it does stand alone. If it doesn’t say the Original Jack Herer on the product, it’s just not.”
There is great historical justice that Jack Herer’s name appears on dispensary menus nationwide, because the man shouldered so much of the early work of cannabis legalization. The Original Jack Herer hopes to maintain that legacy with a new generation of cannabis users who don’t know Jack (yet).