The story of Jack Herer’s efforts to expose the truth about the beneficial qualities of the hemp plant, and to re-legalize its production and use. [Dir: Jeff Jones/ 59 min/ Documentary-Educational, Biography/ Legalize Drugs]
Jack Herer is the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a virtual encyclopedia of hemp information detailing its benefits, history, and only recently imposed illegality. As told here, he is the one most responsible for repopularizing the truth about the many uses and benefits of this plant. His pro-hemp crusade both undermined government efforts to ban it, and stimulated a rebirth in the hemp industry.
This is a bigger deal than you might imagine. Hemp is an amazing plant. It can be used to make food, clothing, building materials, drugs, oil, paper, and more. And it’s ecologically friendly—it requires no pesticides to grow and is entirely renewable. But all this was largely forgotten until the early 1980s, when Herer published his book. Until then, even hard-core marijuana advocates were largely unaware of hemp’s history and many uses.
That’s no coincidence. Since hemp production was essentially banned in the U.S. (via deliberately onerous taxation and regulation), there was little opportunity for manufacturers and consumers to become familiar with it. Moreover, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has blocked virtually all research into hemp through its control of the hemp permit process. And in its antidrug zeal, the U.S government has taken some rather 1984-ish steps to destroy all knowledge of hemp’s usefulness, and silence those who would spread that knowledge. As told here, at one time the Smithsonian Institution even removed all references to hemp from its displays. It’s no wonder, then, that when Herer discovered the existence of a World War II government propaganda film promoting hemp production for wartime use, called Hemp for Victory, he had trouble convincing the press that he hadn’t just faked the film. All record of it had been expunged from government files!
Later, Herer himself was arrested and imprisoned for promoting hemp (by no less than Ronald Reagan, who circumvented Herer’s free speech rights by having him arrested for violating an arcane law forbidding the registering of voters on federal property after dark). Ironically, it was Herer’s imprisonment that gave him the time to write The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a triumph that stimulated much of the pro-hemp movement and which is the very reason he is the subject of this documentary. The book has spread the knowledge of hemp’s usefulness far and wide and has sold more than six hundred thousand copies.
Herer himself is an interesting character and a suitable subject for a documentary. A middle-class family man, former Army M.P., and Goldwater Republican, he’s no hippie. But when he gradually became aware of the potential of hemp to solve many of the world’s problems, and of the hypocrisy and ignorance of those opposing hemp, he turned his considerable writing and oratorical talents to promoting it. He was ridiculed and reviled but in the end managed to spread the word about hemp through sheer persistence.
This film does him justice. It’s well organized, entertaining, informative, and makes effective use of music. I’m glad it was produced. Herer has made a great effort toward a good purpose. In my book, that’s the definition of a hero. He deserves at least these fifty-nine minutes of cinematic fame.
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