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Businessman Calls Marijuana a Cure for the Environment : Lobbying: Jack Herer has recently returned from a tour promoting the many uses of hemp. He says Americans have been misled about the plant, but medical experts do not share his views.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Fernando Valley businessman has returned from six weeks of Midwestern rallies that were co-sponsored by his organization to promote the legalization of marijuana and attended by thousands of enthusiastic supporters. “It was a beautiful atmosphere,” said Jack Herer of HEMP (Help Eliminate Marijuana Prohibition), located in Van Nuys. “We only had trouble with police in a couple cities.”

Herer said he addressed 60 rallies in 48 communities including Cleveland, Kansas City, Mo., Omaha and Iowa City, Iowa. About 4,500 people turned out for the largest meeting at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; about 75 appeared at the smallest gathering in Vincennes, Ind., one of many small cities Herer and his followers passed through.

The tour attracted crowds through music and sophisticated publicity methods. The rally caravan included a six-member band, two solo guitarists, equipment people, button and bumper sticker sellers and five advance people who made sure local organizers sent out information.

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During an interview at his home in Venice--where he recently moved from Sherman Oaks--the 6-foot, 230-pound former sign painter paced about his light and airy living room a block from the beach. His attire was straight out of ‘60s counterculture: tie-dyed shorts and a T-shirt with a large marijuana leaf laid over an American flag.

The “hemp history” on the back of the T-shirt explained that through the 19th Century the hemp plant, which produces marijuana, had been used in many products: long-lasting textiles, fabrics, paper and high-quality paint, varnish and engine oil.

Relying on information that he gleaned during years of research for his self-published history of marijuana, Herer, 50, presented each crowd on the tour the same message:

“We have found a way that you can live longer, have less stress, have a good time,” he said. “And it’s illegal and it’s got to be made lawful.”

But Herer’s view is not shared by many medical experts and law enforcement officials. Ronald K. Siegel, a psychopharmacologist at the UCLA School of Medicine, said consistent smoking of marijuana can affect motivation, cause panic reactions and disrupt hormones in the male and female reproductive system.

“It is not the kind of drug we could put the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on and say that it is safe at any speed,” he said. “We know that if nothing else the intoxicating effect can impair driving and other measures of performance.

“Mr. Herer has a political agenda. I think the reader of his book should keep in mind that political agenda. Just like you must keep in mind the government’s political agenda when reading their material on marijuana.”

Herer said that hemp provided large quantities of American clothing, textiles and paper until the federal government passed a 1937 hemp tax designed to eradicate marijuana by limiting hemp’s growth.

He said restoring the crop would enable America to produce clothing fibers softer and more durable than cotton, paper fibers five or 10 times longer lasting than wood pulp and seeds providing one of earth’s most complete vegetable proteins.

“The crowds at the rallies were outraged that they never learned that,” he said. “They were outraged that their teachers hadn’t known the facts and that their legislators had passed laws without knowing the facts.”

Herer said he is undiscouraged by the proliferation of anti-drug campaigns, including Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program. He said he has devoted 17 years to spreading information about marijuana because he believes that education is the key to legalization.

“Once they know, they have to change,” he said.

“I see the outlawing of synthetic fibers and fossil fuels and the environmentalists taking over. When they do, they are going to need natural substitutes, and hemp is the world’s premier substitute. Nothing grows bigger, better, faster or in more climates or soil conditions or latitudes.”

Herer said he smoked his first marijuana joint in 1969. He has advocated legalizing the substance since 1973 when he walked into a Hollywood office of the California Marijuana Initiative and was asked to distribute posters because none of the campaign’s young staff people had a car. He has since worked for seven legalization initiatives in California and two in Oregon.

After getting involved in the movement, he helped fund it by opening head shops in the San Fernando Valley. In 1983, police were ordered to return signed petitions supporting the marijuana initiative that had been illegally confiscated during a raid on his Canoga Park store. Three years later he was fined $1,500 and served two years probation for violating a state law against selling drug paraphernalia.

Later he passed out his book, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Everything You Should Have Learned About Marijuana but Were Not Taught in School,” to several hundred school children in Thousand Oaks and Riverside. The divorced marijuana advocate has six children and has used his favorite substance with each.

Today his Valley business manufactures posters of the rock group The Grateful Dead and sells them in 300 stores across the nation, but he works most of the time to legalize marijuana.

“My partner says I have unbounded energy,” he said. “He said that the reason I’m not manic-depressive is that I’m always manic. He runs down and gets tired every day. I don’t.”

Herer said his activism has deep roots.

“My daddy was politically active in Buffalo, N.Y., when I grew up,” he said. “He taught me my rights. I was a tough kid and I never stood for anyone beating me up. I love a country where I can bitch and complain as much as I do. It lets me know that the institutions on which we were founded are still working.”


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