This November 2, Prop 19 is on the ballot in CA along medical marijuana initiatives in AZ, OR and SD. A generation ago this would have been inconceivable, and marijuana advocates owe a great deal to Jack Herer whose landmark 1979 book The Emperor Wears No Clothes yanked the sheets off marijuana and hemp prohibition. An advocate for legalization, Jack converted from a square john to an enlightened political activist after blowing a couple reefers. No wonder the government wants weed banned!

Emperor of Hemp is Jack Herer’s story; the story a plant and a country; and the story of governmental hypocrisy, racism, and greed.

In 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed in to law the Marijuana Tax Act which effectively prohibited cannabis in any form. You could grow it–as long as there were no seeds or leaves. Go figure. The reason for this prohibition, according to Herer: Money. Hemp–cannabis sativa–could be used as biomass fuel, for fabric, paper, food, to replace petroleum products, as well as having numerous medical applications.

The crop–which George Washington had encouraged Americas to grow after the Revolution–was seen by William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Mellon the the DuPont Company to be a threat to their interests, so the threat of drug-crazed, brown-skinned people featured prominently in Hearst’s journals, which were printed on paper made from timber grown on Hearst’s vast land holdings. DuPont was making plastic and fabrics using petroleum by products, and Mellon, then Secretary of the Treasury, was a stockholder and good pal.

Despite the tax Act, during World War II, the government encouraged farmers to grow “Hemp for Victory,” with the plant being used for fabric, rope and oil, but once the war was over, hemp disappeared again until the 1990s when Herer’s book and an interest in organic and renewable resources made non-psychoactive cannabis an ingredient in cosmetics and the fiber part of our wardrobe.

All the hemp used in American commercial products is grown abroad. Congressman Ron Paul wants to change that. He introduced House Bill 1866, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2010, which would exclude low potency varieties of marijuana from federal prohibition. Passage of HR 1866 would remove existing federal barriers and allow states that wish to regulate commercial hemp production the authority to do so.

That’s Herer’s influence and passion at work. Herer, who died earlier this year, worked tirelessly for marijuana legalization, joining forces with Ed Adair who ran two head shops in Los Angeles to gather signatures, register voters and lobby politicians.

Then in the late 1970s when Herer had the revelation that hemp could save the planet, the good folks at NORML thought he was a little nuts. And when President-elect Ronald Reagan saw Herer and others demonstrating outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, the Gipper, who hated pot smokers, found a way to arrest Jack and five friends for violating an arcane wartime sabotage act while they were registering voters. His appeal denied by the Supreme Court, Herer was sentenced to Federal prison. It was there that he had the time and solitude to write Emperor’s New Clothes which revolutionized marijuana advocacy and brought to light both the medical and commercial uses of cannabis.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, with a great soundtrack featuring Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Cheap Trick and Kara’s Flowers (now Maroon 5), Emperor of Hemp combines vintage footage and interviews into a smart fun fast paced film, that delivers background and insight into both Herer and the issues surrounding the prohibition of marijuana. The film is dedicated to producer and Body Shop founder Anita Roddick who famously incorporated hemp into the store’s product line, making them the first mainstream merchandiser to carry hemp products. This DVD edition features a bonus: The propaganda film Hemp for Victory is included along with other goodies.

Jack Herer saw injustice in our marijuana laws and fought to change those laws. And he also brought medical marijuana and the history of hemp into the Baby Boomer and Gen X consciousness, teaching us that George Washington grew hemp and that the Constitution was written on hemp. Well heck if it was good enough for our founders, why are we being denied it today?

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday November 2!