Author and political activist Jack Herer showed up at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station Monday evening to publicize the “California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative 2008” signature drive.


Herer signs a copy of one of his books, Grass, for Elizabeth Whitney of Inverness. Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park (at left) helped organize Monday’s meeting. Attendance was light, probably because in West Marin Herer was preaching to the choir.

Monday’s event began with a movie, Emperor of Hemp (narrated by actor Peter Coyote), about Herer’s 50-year campaign throughout the United States to legalize cannabis sativa, both the smokable and non-smokable varieties. In the film, Herer is seen evolving from a conservative military policeman in Korea after the war to an advocate for growing hemp for fiber, food, and fuel.

Herer loves to rant — although the effects of a stroke have slowed his speech in recent years — and is seen from New York to Oregon ranting against marijuana laws and haranguing enthusiastic crowds with, “Hemp will save the world.”

Appropriately, Herer says his interest in cannabis sativa occurred after a girlfriend convinced him to try smoking pot. Not only did the euphoria make him see the world differently, he became a different person. Herer went from a Goldwater Republican to an advocate for legalizing cannabis — both for enjoyment and medical purposes. Equally significant, he became an advocate for growing industrial-grade cannabis to replace wood in paper, for use as fuel and lubricants, for cooking oil etc.

empcover.jpgAs Herer pointed out in his repeatedly reissued 1985 book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, hemp was used for thousands of years to make paper, cloth, oil (from its seeds), and innumerable other products. In 1937, however, the US government outlawed personal use of pot and outlawed even the growing of industrial-quality hemp despite outcries from the medical community, among others.

The absurdity of banning a valuable crop became evident a decade later when, as Emperor of Hemp shows, a US Department of Agriculture film described hemp farming as a patriotic part of the war effort — even though it remained illegal.

The federal government continues to ban hemp farming (although industrial-grade hemp contains too little tetrahydrocannabinol to create the effects associated with pot), and hemp products sold in this country are all made with imported hemp. Emperor of Hemp quotes the government’s argument for banning a valuable crop as being that police would have trouble determining which cannabis was legal and which was illegal, so allowing industrial-grade hemp growing in the US “would send the wrong message to our children.” Huh?

Emperor of Hemp contains interviews with people from the medical community, academia, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — all saying that what Herer preaches is on target despite his bombast. Even NORML, who for years didn’t want to associate itself with Herer’s “Hemp-will-save-the-world” rhetoric, now recognizes the aging activist’s writings have made the public understand the false premises behind the government’s war against cannabis, the group’s executive director says in the film.

Herer has now authored the Hemp Initiative in an attempt to make California law reflect reality. As Herer said Monday, signatures are being collected for the state initiative, with 434,000 valid signatures needed by April 5 to qualify for the November ballot. In any initiative drive, a large number of signatures are invalidated, so organizers of this campaign hope to reach three million signatures in the next two months.

The initiative would legalize the growing and selling industrial hemp, would bar state law enforcement officers from helping federal agents enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in California, would legalize marijuana smoking for religious purposes, would legalize adult use of marijuana for euphoria as well as medicine, and would set standards for non-commercial cultivation of marijuana.

100_6236_1.jpgTo publicize the initiative drive, three-day “Hip Hop for Hemp” festivals will be held in Northern and Southern California. Seeva Cherms (left), the daughter of Linda Sturdivant, is handling publicity, and Wednesday she told me 24 bands and several internationally known reggae and rock stars have already agreed to participate.

For the moment, Seeva added, the identities of the biggest names cannot be announced, pending arrangements with their recording companies. People who want to keep up with festival plans will soon be able to check a new Hip Hop for Hemp website.