You can no longer call marijuana Girl Scout Cookies because the Girl Scouts of America send stop-and-desist orders to cannabis brands that use the name. The same goes for Gorilla Glue, named after a real glue product that has been threatened with lawsuits because that name belongs to them.
But one species name that did belong to someone else keeps its informal 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 after a cannabis crusader of yore. His son Dan Herer carries on the name with a brand of flower and vape oil called The Original Jack Herer.
“We think Original Jack Herer is the best authentic Jack out there,” Dan Herer told SF Weekly. “It’s a genetic material that’s decades old, it’s grown with love and intention. There are a lot of people who make a product that puts my father’s name on it, but we think the product we produce stands out.”
Jack Herer (pronounced HAIR-er: “It rhymes with terror,” he often joked) was a marijuana cult hero for the better part of 30 years. He is best known for his turning point book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which transformed cannabis from a party drug into a plant of great economic and environmental value, and described how people relied on the herb for centuries.
Herer, a sort of “Abbie Hoffman for pot” agitator, was a far-right Republican and military police officer in post-war Korea who had a cheeba change of heart that led him to open a main store in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.
“He started a 50-year crusade,” says the younger Herer. “That crusade began in 1972 with Proposition 19, the first cannabis or marijuana initiative in the United States.” The measure to legalize marijuana 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 meeting with then-President-elect Ronald Reagan in 1981. As Herer and his company gathered petition signatures outside a federal building in Los Angeles, Reagan’s motorcade passed by. Reagan thought they were Canadian protesters because he thought the marijuana leaf on their flag was a Canadian-flagged maple leaf.
Reagan ordered that the entire couple be arrested. A lenient judge only offered the protesters a $5 fine if they pleaded guilty and settled it, but Herer refused on principle. He was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison, where he wrote the sketch for The Emperor Wears No Clothes in his long, useless hours.
First published in 1985, the book is said 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 today’s cannabis and hemp legalization,” Herer says. “That book brought my father a lot of fame.”
The Emperor Wears No Clothes was a long historical treatise on how cannabis hemp was used from the 1600s to the early 1900s to produce food, housing, clothing, paper and medicine. The book also details 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 the Netherlands named Ben Dronkers who got a copy of the book,” Herer says. “Ben was a farmer, he grew cannabis and he was a grower. “He then named a strain after my father, whom many people today know as ‘Jack Herer.'”
That strain became an international sensation when it won the Amsterdam High Times Cannabis Cup in 1994. But these were the days when medical marijuana wasn’t even legal and cannabis strains were illegally transferred through an underground market of seeds and clones.
That would all change in 1996, when some of Herer’s old dreams and endeavors came true: California legalized medical marijuana with the approval of Proposition 215. While there were no legal dispensaries yet, there were collectives and cooperatives that did openly sell the cannabis. . product (although they were often mugged by the police).
“Because the plant was allowed on the black market through these co-ops, people who were sick or wanted to use this cannabis were related to the man Jack Herer started asking,” Herer says. “That community’s wish began to raise awareness of both the man and the plant.”
The legend of “Jack Herer”, the plant, known for its distinctive smell, taste and potent high, quickly became as famous as Jack Herer, the marijuana advocate. As legalization began to sweep across the country, first as medicinal marijuana and then recreationally, the cannabis strain became the more famous Jack Herer.
“People in the 90s knew both the man and the flower,” says the younger Herer. “Something has changed in the space where people grew up with access since then. They didn’t have to be activists in their community, 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.
“When there was legal cannabis in California, we started putting the name Jack Herer on the product and the man on the flower,” he says. “We just wanted people to know that Jack was not just the name of the strain, but that 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 .
“It has something when you smell it and consume it; the smell, the taste, the high. We think it stands alone. If there isn’t the original Jack Herer on the product, it just isn’t.”
There is great historical justice that Jack Herer’s name appears on pharmacy menus across the country because the man took on so much of the early work of cannabis legalization. The Original Jack Herer hopes to continue that legacy with a new generation of cannabis users who don’t know Jack (yet).