Re-Legalize it? Herer’s Legacy Lives on in Hemp Initiative

Jack Herer was likely the figure most responsible for the revolution in cannabis consciousness in the 1990s — especially where the industrial applications of hemp are concerned.

His 1985 book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” an encyclopedic take-down of cannabis prohibition, to be expanded over several editions with more documentation of the plant’s multifarious uses, was the proverbial bible for a generation of hemp crusaders.

Now, a decade after his passing, his surviving friends, family and comrades are fighting to get his legacy enshrined in California law though an updated version of a ballot initiative that he authored over a generation ago. 

A Post-Prop 64 Vision

A new plan for changing the scope of legal marijuana in the Golden State is California Cannabis Hemp Initiative (CCHI). Dan Herer  —  Jack’s son, who founded the Jack Herer Foundation to carry on his father’s work —  says that with some “minor changes,” the initiative is the same one that the “Emperor of Hemp” first crafted in 1990.

The initiative failed to win enough signatures that year, and several election years since then. But Dan thinks that widespread disillusionment with how things have unfolded since California’s 2016 legalization initiative, Proposition 64, could mean that the CCHI’s hour has arrived. 

“We’re collecting signatures for a new initiative that we hope will put Prop 64 out of business,” Dan Herer tells Cannabis Now. “The way Prop 64 was written, there was a lot of room for serious f*ckery to go on, and over the past four years a lot of our worst fears have been realized. Things have gone woefully awry for those who hoped for a cannabis economy that lifted communities rather than suppressed them.” 

The CCHI is crafted to support small businesses and encourage hemp production by keeping taxes and licensing fees manageable, and lifting restrictions on cultivation.  

Dan has little patience with the limitations in Prop 64 and its enabling legislation.

“The narratives used in the name cannabis control are same lies and falsehoods that created prohibition and all the pushback over the past 80 years about what cannabis is and what it can do,” he says. “We are being inhibited at every step.” 

Lifting the Tax Burden

Dan is scathing in his indictment of California’s status quo.

“If you grow cannabis in Santa Cruz and sell it in San Jose, there are taxes in both jurisdictions of up to 15% of gross,” he protests. “By the time you’re paying all your taxes, there’s no room for expansion, for lobbying — for educating the community about the truth about cannabis, and countering the lies that are created to control cannabis.” 

The text of the CCHI stipulates that only a point-of-sale excise tax can be imposed on “euphoric” (psychoactive) cannabis products, with the total not to exceed 10%. The state and localities can divvy up the 10% as they wish, but that’s the cap. And at least 50% of the revenues would go toward research, development and promotion of an industrial hemp industry in California.

Current taxes based on gross sale from producers to retailers are to be eliminated. “Now, the tax liability can be up to 80% and it is taxed on gross rather than earnings, and regardless of cost to produce goods,” Dan said of the current system. “The profit margin can be as low as four percent.” 

In a very critical issue for “compassionate care” in California, taxes would be eliminated for medicinal use under the CCHI.

The CCHI would loosen things up quite considerably in other ways too. It would raise the state limit on the number of plants that can be grown for personal “euphoric” use from the current six to a very impressive 99. 

Licensing fees for commercial cultivators are to be capped at $1,000, as opposed to up to $30,000 now. Localities would only be able to impose an ordinary business license. The text also allows temporary licenses for special events. 

These regulations mostly follow the model already in place for wine and beer. And the CCHI, unlike Prop 64, would actually de-schedule cannabis under state law, removing it from the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

Limits on quantity for commercial cultivation would also be lifted. This may, for some, raise fears about corporate cannabis exploiting economies of scale. But Buddy Duzy, CCHI initiative coordinator, thinks the market will ultimately favor small growers.

Under CCHI, he says, “big corporations and craft farmers don’t get treated differently. We expect craft farmers to be basically controlling it, because people don’t like to smoke the same thing all the time — they like to switch brands. And most pot smokers don’t like to support big corporations either.” 

The Arc of Hemp History

The CCHI has never made it onto the ballot before, despite tries in 2008, 2012 and 2016, most recently. But Duzy echoes Dan’s optimism. “We’re hoping its gonna pass this time, because Prop 64 made such a mess out of the pot industry in California that people are screaming for change.” 

To get the CCHI on the November ballot, the campaign must line up 625,000 validated signatures by April 20 (which, fortuitously enough, happens to be 420). This may seem a daunting prospect, but Duzy is confident that with enough money to hire signature-collectors, it can be done. The campaign, based in the Los Angeles area, is currently raising money to launch this effort.

“We’re talking to big growers in the Emerald Triangle, and trying to get the environmentalists on board,” says Duzy. “We’re around half way to what we need.”

Duzy has been at this a long time himself. He was involved in California’s first cannabis legalization initiative, the California Marijuana Initiative or Prop 19, which made it on to the ballot way back in 1972. It got about a third of the vote, which was impressive for a first try. The CMI’s second try in 1980 failed to make it onto the ballot due to disqualified signatures. This was an early case in the ongoing controversies over what constitutes a valid signature under California electoral law. The courts have ordered the authorities to loosen their formerly rigid standards since then.

Dan has been something of a torch-bearer since his father Jack’s passing in 2010. He’s been speaking around the country and the world, spreading the gospel of the cannabis plant for medicine, food, fuel and fiber (as well as euphoria). He’s also been marketing the Original Jack Herer line of cannabis products. 

“If my father’s name is gonna be used in connection with cannabis, it should be controlled by his family and people committed to the values he lived and died for,” Dan says of the legacy he is carrying on.  

“He believed cannabis should be taxed like a tomato, like the plant that it is — not as a sin. It is safer than alcohol, safer than tobacco, safer than peanuts. And when you use the plant to its full potential, you are uplifting communities.”

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