Fans gather around Jack Herer’s bus on a tour in the 90’s. (Courtesy of Jeannie Herer)
If you visited Los Angeles’ Venice Beach boardwalk in the 1980s, you were likely to encounter a bearded, corpulent man peddling a wild conspiracy theory. With his disheveled clothes and slobbery workingman’s diction, he often looked like he spent the night in a dumpster. He offered a story as compelling as the Ancient Mariner’s, a tale of history, conspiracy, greed, and deceit. A cabal of plastic manufacturers and power-hungry bureaucrats, he claimed, had suppressed one of the most industrially useful and medically beneficial plants the world has ever known: cannabis. Everything you think you know about marijuana, he’d tell passersby, is wrong.
The man’s named was Jack Herer. At the time, he was in his late fifties and had just published a book that laid out his evidence. Actually, “published” is a strong word. The Emperor Wears No Clothes was cheaply bound by a vanity press, which meant that no reputable publisher would touch it.
Thirty years later, the old Venice Beach conspiracy peddler has become an American legend. His book, now in its 12th printing, has sold more than 700,000 copies, making it one of the most unlikely bestsellers of the past half century.