Dan Herer interview
If you’re even only remotely knowledgeable about the cannabis industry, there’s a good chance you know the Jack Herer name. A pioneer of cannabis activism, the advocate and author devoted his life to changing social thought surrounding cannabis to bring an end to the prohibition of the plant. His 1985 book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, exposed truths and demystified stigmas about cannabis, all in the middle of the federal government’s War on Drugs.
In part due to how he changed the cannabis conversation, a strain of the plant developed in the Netherlands in the mid-1990s was named in his honor. That strain went on to garner multiple awards and accolades, including winning the 7th High Times Cannabis Cup.
And last month, The Original Jack Herer signed a licensing agreement with 1933 Industries, bringing the iconic brand to Nevada. Soon the brand’s flower, pre-rolls, vape cartridges and concentrates will be available at dispensaries across the state. To celebrate the start of this exciting relationship, we sat down with The Original Jack Herer founder (and Herer’s son), Dan Herer, to discuss his father’s legacy, the brand’s new charitable foundation and why 1933 was a perfect fit here in the Silver State.
What was it like growing up with the legacy of your father?
It didn’t feel like a legacy growing up. There was no understanding of what it was that we were really moving toward; it was just normal life for us. There wasn’t an evaluation of “we’re doing great things” and “we’re going to be remembered” or “he’s going to be remembered” or that sort of thing. The one thing we knew was that the world had to change its understanding of cannabis, the War on Drugs and the ending of Prohibition in order to really set up an opportunity for us as a species to survive in the future.
From a legacy standpoint, I don’t think that it really hit anybody in this family until probably five or 10 years after my father’s book was written. We realized the impact of the book had really permeated throughout society—not just here in California, but across the United States—and had started influencing the rest of the world to take steps toward righting this great wrong.
As my father’s book was translated into other languages, we knew that there was something bigger than we had ever imagined. As people started taking my father’s name and trying to claim it as theirs, we realized that there was a great value—not just monetarily, but just relationship-wise—when people can attach themselves to somebody like my father and his work, how he elevated people within their communities.
Are you an activist as well? Did your father inspire you to also become an activist?
I don’t remember understanding cannabis until I was 12 years old. By the time I was 15 and in high school, both of my brothers and I were already using cannabis—my youngest brother because of his asthma, and my oldest brother because that’s what we did as teenagers.
In 1980 I became old enough to register voters and collect signatures, so that’s what I did. Throughout the 1980s elections, we went out and we were activists. We went to places like the Rose Parade, where there were a million people gathered at the beginning of the year, and we would literally pound the pavement registering voters and getting signatures. And when it wasn’t there, it was places like Westwood Village, California.
Being our father’s kids, some of us took it more seriously and for some of us, it was just fun to be a part of when you’re 18 or 19 or 20. But as the war on drugs started, we realized that the fight ahead of us was something that was really significant, and that it was going to take more than just a casual interest in order to make a change. So, we started educating folks almost on a daily basis, down at Venice Beach on the boardwalk. For more than I’d say 20 to 25 years we were down at Venice Beach. If it wasn’t every day, it was every weekend, educating tourists and the community alike. I don’t think I ever really considered myself an activist, but it was what we were all doing. We just felt that what we were doing was right and necessary, so the energy was put there.
How do you keep the Jack Herer legacy alive?
Technically, I don’t have to keep it alive. It is out there in the world and it exists without my energy. That book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, it gave people power, it gave people strength, it gave people courage, it gave people a voice. The legacy is what he has created, and that is this worldwide presence of people who actually understand cannabis. And if they don’t understand, they want to understand it, and then they go out and they find that information that supports their beliefs, that supports their understanding.
I went to Nepal earlier this year for a hemp summit. There were folks there from 25 other countries from around the world. And after a few of us finished speaking and walked off stage during a break, these two young kids came up to me and said, “I just want to say thank you for being here and thank you for the work that your father did and what you’re continuing to do.” They said, “Your father’s book inspired us to do what we’re doing.” I responded, “that’s great, I’m really humbled” and I asked them where they’re from. They said, “well, we’re from Mongolia.” So, when you think about a man who literally wrote the book on the truth of cannabis in 1985 ... and you’ve got two young kids from Mongolia, on the Chinese side of the Himalayan mountains, walking up to me and telling me that my father’s book, written 30-something years ago, inspired them to dedicate their lives to cannabis, I don’t have to worry about the legacy. The legacy exists already. The legacy exists in every single cannabis or CBD show around the country. The legacy exists in every hemp and cannabis farmer around the globe who are embracing this plant and devoting their lives to the propagation and understanding of it within their communities. That’s the legacy. I don’t have to worry about it anymore.
The Jack Herer strain of cannabis has received nothing but positive reviews and prestigious accolades. Why do you think the strain is so revered?
When the strain was created and named after my father, it came at a time when there was starting to be a change of understanding in the world. And when I say the world, that understanding really started in California with Proposition 215. The strain was created before that. Its association with my father and my father’s name became very big news. And as Prop 215 was passed in the state of California, it created the Compassionate Care Act, which means people weren’t thinking about cannabis from a financial standpoint, they were thinking “how do I get this to my lover who is dying of AIDS and help him to have a more comfortable life, because we don’t know how to treat AIDS but we can alleviate some of his suffering.” Or my father who has dementia or my mother who has cancer or my baby brother or sister who has some ailment from muscular disease or neurological issue such as epilepsy. When they looked to cannabis, they looked for something that they could understand. And they saw my father’s name and they saw my father’s face, and they saw this strain that had been written up in magazines and newspapers as this beautiful high and this tranquil feeling that gave you meditative abilities or gave you sedative abilities or you could smoke it and still be energetic without being lethargic. And they were like “this is probably something that I could use.”
Now, I will tell you that when you smell it, when you crack open a jar of Jack, it really does smell significantly different than most cannabis. For what reasons? I don’t know. The combination of genetics that created it, honestly, was something special. When you smell it, you’re immediately connected to it, like when you smell a rose or when you smell jasmine or lavender. There’s something that just connects from your sensors that says, “this is for me.”
Tell us about the JH Foundation?
My father passed away in 2010. He had been having some health issues for a few years up until then, but there wasn’t really a realization that he was going to die the next day. He had a heart attack in 2009, at an event standing on stage fighting for cannabis and telling people that they needed to find their voices and change laws and make sure to stay vigilant. As he was saying these words on stage, he started to have a heart attack, which then frightened him, and he walked off stage and died. Literally. It was hard. It was hard for me, this family, and we all went into our own little bubbles. And I retreated from a lot of things with regards to the cannabis industry.
One night I was asleep and my father came to visit me, and he literally grabbed my T-shirt that I was wearing and lifted me up off of the pillow. He shook me and said, “when are you going to say something?” And when my father was upset, his teeth would grit and he would spit between his clenched lips, and he was so angry I could feel it. And he just shook me and threw me back down, and he was gone. I woke up and I told my wife that dad had visited me. I felt myself being lifted off the bed, I felt his presence, I felt his anger, I felt the spit land on me as he was talking. And I said “I can’t do what I'm doing anymore. I am going to quit my job working for the studios, I’m going to stop doing what I’m doing, and I'm going to find my way back into the cannabis world that I grew up in.”
I decided to do what I had done my whole life since I was a kid, and that was talk to people about cannabis. To educate them and help them to understand the things that I came to understand throughout my life. That changed everything. And I felt that if I could help to educate folks, who are thinking about cannabis in their communities, who are confused about cannabis in their communities, that when cannabis does come, that they can make decisions based on fact instead of fiction, that are based in realities instead of falsehoods, that aren’t based on prejudices anymore, that are based in information and science. And that if they are going to make laws that accepted this into their communities, that they could make smart laws and good decisions and a way to help people.
And so I decided to start the Jack Herer Foundation to do the things that my father had done out on the road, when he was out selling his book … and fighting around this country, from Washington state to Washington, D.C. By doing this, maybe selfishly, it brings me closer to my father, who I miss every day. Maybe sometime in the future he’ll tell me that he’s proud of me and what I’m doing.
You recently signed a licensing deal with us here at 1933 Industries. Why did you select 1933 Industries as your partner in Nevada?
I’ve been wanting to come into Vegas for a while. One, because there was already a Jack Herer presence there through the Jack Herer Cup. But from a product standpoint, I knew that we needed to expand outside of California years ago. We could not just be a California brand because this is a global brand.
Looking for a partner that had access to the market and was part of the market in Nevada was incredibly important. Having a partnership with folks that were part of the cannabis community prior to becoming successful was equally as important, because they know the strife, they know the struggle. They know what it costs, in the terms of what do you sacrifice in order to live your dream.
Even though 1933 Industries is now a publicly traded company, it didn’t start there. It started because there was a need for it, and that there was a relationship between that plant, its owners and the service of its community. I think that exemplifies what 1933 is. And having a relationship with a company in Nevada that emulates some of those same principles that I am working with in building my own company here in California, the same way that my father built an understanding of the truth of cannabis throughout his lifetime, and the possibilities that could come of it, that seemed to be a natural choice.