This article appears in Volume 5 – Issue 6 of SKUNK Magazine.
WHETHER AWARE OR NOT, each of us is currently submitting to a centralized power. Allowing substances and behaviors it approves of and disallowing others it doesn’t (or covertly sells), it acts illogically only if you don’t understand that it acts exclusively out of self-interest. This is an important point as it allows me to dispense with a lot of red herrings that focus on the “stupidity” of the war on drugs. In fact, the war on drugs is an extremely calculated control mechanism, which makes illegal curative and beneficial herbs at the expense of the plebeian consumer class, makes witches of their champions and keeps their public funds flowing into the hands of an increasingly monstrous law enforcement security-state. Thus, the drug war ceases to be ‘mad’ and ‘stupid’ and becomes (as with most capitalist government’s actions) a rather brilliant cover for vast profit and armed control of the masses. What the cattle can or cannot do equates to profits, thus profit and control are inextricably linked.
With talk about legalization slowly being allowed into the mainstream media, this fact must be well understood in order to grasp the atrocity that is United States hemp law. No other explanation will suffice to decipher the law’s hypocrisy, stupidity and violence. This 5,000-year-old tool of mankind was grown by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. This 5,000-year-old tool of mankind was outlawed in 1937 and then re-legalized in 1942 for the so-called Second World War. Hemp lubricated plane engines, was used as rigging and ropes for the navy and even managed to save the life of a young George Bush Sr. as he parachuted to safety with a hemp chute, so that he might birth the second biggest red herring to the “War on Drugs.” In short, hemp is good for government-scale production in a pinch, but is not allowed for private citizens during peace.
So when and how did hemp get such a bad rap? From 1921-32, the United States Secretary of Treasury was Andrew W. Mellon, a man who clearly knew money. Before attaining this (arguably) highest political position in the land, he was the United States’ third-richest citizen and happened to be a member of the gentleman’s hunting club whose cheap, earthen dam collapsed, causing the Johnstown Flood that killed about 2,200 people. But I digress. Herbert Hoover said this of his Secretary:
“Mr. Mellon had only one formula: ‘Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate’. He held that even panic was not altogether a bad thing. He said, ‘It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.”
Mellon, an advocate of disaster Capitalism, is also the same man who led the United States into the Great Depression, and also managed to appoint his nephew, Harry Anslinger, as the very first “Commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics.” That’s right, the first ‘drug war’ department (also among the first incarnations of the FBI, CIA, et al) was answerable only to the Federal Reserve. On top of that, Mellon’s bank (the 6th largest) was heavily invested in DuPont Corporation’s patented process of turning wood pulp into paper. Hemp happens to be an easily renewable and ecologically friendly source of paper a hundred times more durable and easy to produce. One can now understand how the drug war started: armed defense of investments; involving harassment of citizens, domestic spying and worst of all, propaganda. If the same general views are expressed across all major media and all government organizations, it will obviously have an indelible effect on the populace’s thinking of those views. Even to this day, we at SKUNK and everyone fighting for the movement, must constantly battle these 80-year-old memes.
I. The Journey South
As is often the case in our more and more abstract culture, a forwarded e-mail told the tale:
‘FW: Premiere invite!’ from director Melissa Balin appeared in my inbox with my boss’s single line: ‘Think you’d be interested in doing this?’ Above this, his boss: ‘Let’s get somebody there.’ At the bottom of the e-totem pole came my response to all: ‘I’m there.’
Even though I was closer to the event than my SKUNK colleagues, residing just north of San Francisco, I was still a good six hours away. This mission would require that thing that every journalist worth his salt lusts after in the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson: an expense account. That wonderful symbol of mildly misplaced trust from the higher-ups and a perfect and confident platform to jump start a story.
Jack Herer is undeniably one of those revered, living legend-type names not to be fucked with. This fact loomed large on my mind as I prepared for a trip to Mordor-like LA.
Volcano Vaporizer: check.
Eighth of super high-quality Jack Herer: check.
12-volt converter for rental car: check.
My photographer (and friend) Phil: check.
Backpack full of shit for two days in the valley of the beast: a hopeful check.
Confident in Sparky’s financial situation, I threw out fliff like a sultan, purchasing a nice rental car, booking a nice hotel in West Hollywood and not even skimping on the big send-off lunch for my photographer and myself. We zoomed down the I-5, waxing philosophic on the nature of language, Taoism and even hemp. Passing the rolling acres of California’s most fertile valley on the way to the premiere of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, it was an impossibility for the latter topic not to come up.
“I think a lot of cannabis growers want the farmer’s life. You know, comfortable house down a dusty driveway with a good rocker for sunsets. Hokey, but I think that’s the spirit– humble benevolence,” Phil offered.
“Yeah, it’s a shame a guy I know at the Agribusiness Examiner said most of Central Valley is bought and sold by aggro-business. Mom and Pop stopped understanding ‘modern’ farming when their government paid them more to destroy crops than to grow them.”
“Maybe so, but the spirit is still there. This valley could very likely sustainably provide food, fiber and fuel for the entire state if all these master-growers you chase around for interviews put their techniques to full-scale hemp production. And we know they aren’t criminals, they are just sons and daughters of farmers and those born with the green thumb. Hell, I bet they would grow for free if the state supplied them with good food and shelter, maybe tax exemption. Something like what the soldiers pointing M-4’s at Iraqi teenagers get now.”
“Yes, I believe you’re right. And that’s exactly why they can’t and it is still illegal to do so– artificial scarcities mean increased profits, un-monopolized abundance doesn’t do our dominator class any good at all.”
II. Hold that Premiere!
We rolled on through the Central Valley, my Storz and Bickel baby (codename: Brave Little Toaster) hummed along with us, and we started up the hills that would lead us into the City of Angels. In typical fashion, I had just barely timed the trip correctly. We pulled up to the Grafton in West Hollywood just 30 minutes before the premiere was scheduled to start. We checked into our deluxe room and couldn’t resist cracking the seal on a can of pure oxygen (compliments Sparky) the Grafton was kind enough to include in its rooms, owing to its oxygen-starved locale. Oxygenated, but a bit behind schedule, we took off our unkempt street clothes, donned slacks and casually buttoned-down business shirts and prepared to hurry to the premiere.
A hard lesson I learned from that day: there aren’t that many cabs in LA. Naturally, I had not written down the address of the premiere, knowing only “what was next to it.” After giving the bemused cabbie a single landmark to go by, he suggested we walk.
Thinking him a great ass, we (eventually) found another cab that, much to my chagrin, offered the same exact line. It was only after this second tip that Phil and I realized we were much closer to the event than we had thought. Proceeding at a kind of half-jog, half-walk, we skipped up some escalator stairs and found the premiere just getting ready to start.
Out in front of the Sunset 5 theaters, a carnival of people were gathered. Having bounded up the steps into sunlight and movement, Phil and I took in the sight of Jack Herer in a bright tie-dye shirt mingling with b’suited lawyers Bruce Margolin and William McPike, a man wearing a huge foam hemp leaf on his head (a.k.a. ‘Henry Hemp’), several dreadlocked onlookers, a whole gaggle of production crew stuffing gift bags furiously, and entire groups of people openly lighting up their medication, all upon a flowing white hemp ‘red carpet.’
In a flash, Phil got right to work, clicking away at the scene. In turn, I rushed into the group like a claymore-wielding barbarian (minus the hewing), looking to sidle my way up to Jack. I briefly met the director of the film, Melissa Balin, who had the look of a very busy woman working on very little sleep.
“We’ve had about a week to get this entire thing set up. That’s the movie AND this premiere, mind you. Yes, we’re all operating on about no sleep. But this is nothing; Jack drove hours and hours to get here today. All the way from the Seattle Hempfest,” Balin managed to get out to me before she hurried into the theater for more preparations.
Returning, she shouted to the crowd:
“HEMP HEMP HORAY everyone! We are so thankful for everyone that flew in from around the country, who flew in from around the world! Jack drove hours and hours to get here and educate the people. Now, we’re known for a lot in the City of LA, and education is not one of them! So we’re trying to change that today! Tell your friends, spread the word, and continue the struggle! Who is not a believer?” She asked to the crowd. “Who is not a believer? We want to talk to you.”
The crowd began to line up for the theater, thinning a bit and allowing me to approach Jack himself, with the SKUNK issue bearing my first article, hopefully for a signature to remember. Jack happily signed the article and immediately started his sincere advocacy for his favorite plant. He then handed me a copy of The Emperor Wears No Clothes:
“Trevor, not 90%, not 99%, 100% of what is in this book is true. High Times and NORML didn’t believe me, for 18 years I knew and preached the truth. That hemp can sustainably provide for 80% of everything needed around the world: food, fuel, medicine… canvas, everything! You magazines have to know this, not just about marijuana planting. All other books on hemp (combined) have sold around 200,000 copies. I’ve sold more than 750,000. This needs to be the spearhead of a political hemp movement.”
“Well, SKUNK is here to cover it, Jack,” I responded, with as much wonder as sincerity at this man’s passion.
I got my moment with Jack before the show, and Melissa told me that he would be at the after-party at The Galaxy Gallery on Melrose, and this would be a chance to have a more intimate talk. We all started shuffling into the theater, over the ‘red’ carpet. It was here I realized, like a common lighter thief, I had stolen Jack’s pen, after holding it during our chat.
Phil and I ceased our buzzing about the event and enjoyed a moment of dark calm, sitting in the plush seats of the Sunset 5, ready to take in the film. Starting abruptly, before Jack and a few others had taken their seats, the audience fell silent as the politically-charged Hip Hop for Hemp opened the film. It was amazing to consider that production of this film started on June 28, 2009, just days before its executive producer, Eddy Lepp, was voluntarily incarcerated for a 10-year mandatory-minimum federal bust. The run-time of this film was 12 minutes and included deftly (if hastily) cut readings of several activists going through Jack’s tome of shocking hemp facts, along with damning archival footage of government-sponsored pro-hemp advertisements and documents. There was even cartoon footage explaining the basics of hemp’s potential for the planet.
The movie was made at a break-neck pace due to Lepp’s upcoming imprisonment for non-violent marijuana cultivation and to allow the film to be entered for Academy Award consideration. While the film might not take home any Oscars against multi-million dollar documentaries with more than a month to film, according to director Balin, its consideration is more a political statement than anything.
After an inspirational 12 minutes, during which the crowd burst into cheers several times, Jack and Melissa took questions from the intimate audience, then taking the time to thank everyone for attending, including SKUNK. After deciding to “go right into the music, then medicate,” the crowd listened to a live performance of Dre Ghost’s Hip Hop for Hemp.
V. Jack’s Fiery Talk
Jack walked shakily to the front of the theater after the film and delivered this talk without the aid of a microphone (as it was malfunctioning). Before Jack’s recent heart attack, which occurred after another emotional speech only a month after this event, he had been the victim of a stroke, making it difficult for him to speak clearly. Often pausing to collect his thoughts, when I talked with him, Jack hardly stopped a moment for breath when he gave the following speech to a theater full of supporters:
“Okay, one more thing. We’re going to do an initiative. We’re going to try this on October 1st, and will go on to November– signatures that will put on the ballot that EVERYTHING about hemp will be legal. You can grow it, you can smoke it, you can eat it and you can’t go to jail– and all the people in jail GET OUT OF JAIL. Only we can save the fucking planet! There are 300,000… million plants, there’s only one plant that literally reverses the greenhouse effect and that plant is against the law? FUCK the government. If there’s one thing in the world that should be legal, it is hemp. For reversing the damage to the soil and the atmosphere and the earth. We have to change it, because we’ve got to vote our majority and change this injustice!”
After the movie, everyone mingled, received their gift bags (which contained a superb grinder, eureka!) and slowly trickled out of the theater. Pipes were smoked openly and one could feel the invigorated spirit of the recent viewers of the film. Melissa thanked everyone for coming again and reminded everyone about the after-party on Melrose that evening.
Phil and I, mildly exhausted, retreated to the Grafton, took a few more oxygen hits and lounged in the luxurious pool. Night fell, and we proceeded to track down yet another scarce taxi to take us to the party. We arrived just in time, Hip Hop for Hemp took the stage at the coffee-shop/smoke-shop scene and the beer flowed. Strong medicine was in the air, but not strong enough for a private after-party to the Emperor Wears No Clothes, I thought. Having had the forethought to bring Brave Little Toaster, I allegedly turned it on and allegedly smoked out Jack and the after-party with (fittingly) fine quality Jack Herer.
All of us in the community have heard about Jack’s recent heart attack at Hempstock in Portland. I’ve talked with Melissa Balin several times regarding his condition and what we can all do. As of this writing, she informed me that Jack’s condition is ‘critical but stable.’ This means we should all pull together and send our best thoughts to this fighter-advocate, who ceaselessly worked for the reinstatement of sane laws for hemp. Here is one of our champions, fallen during veritable battle, as he gave his energy and his inspiration selflessly. Here is a man consistently giving the fight for legal hemp and sane drug policy a rallying cry, behind which we should all gather in a state of solidarity and justified passion to change not just the racket called the ‘war on drugs,’ but to also attempt to plant the first seeds of sustainability in the rotting edifice of imperialistic, economic capitalism.