My Long Strange Trip with Jack Herer

By: Melissa “white chocolate” Balin

“It’s ‘Herer’ like ‘Terror’ is how it’s pronounced.”

Eddy Lepp introduced me to the infamous Jack Herer. “4/22/2008” is the date scrawled in pink crayon on the copy he signed for me, in our definitive meeting to discuss making Herer’s best selling hemp book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, into a feature length documentary.  I barely had a chance to get to know the man, the myth and legend that was Jack Herer, but what a long strange trip it’s been…

“I can’t usually stand Hollywood people,” Jack offered, “but you seem okay.”  Days later in his home, Jack, his wife Jeannie, and his longtime assistant Chuck Jacobs sat down with Eddy and me to discuss the real issues facing legalization and his life’s work. “Do you think you can help us raise a million dollars?  That’s what we need to have a serious chance to pass the California Hemp Initiative.” The only way that I knew how to raise a million dollars was to make a movie… Jack and Eddy liked my enthusiasm and ideas, and it was agreed that Jack would consider the idea once I had read his book 3 times all the way through, and if I could pass his pop quiz…

I was in the south of France for the Cannes Film Festival when I received word of Eddy’s excessive ten-year sentencing, and came back to the States so we could begin filming before Eddy was due to turn himself in to Lompoc Prison.

Not sure who would show up and exactly what we were filming, Eddy and Jack drove down to LA to film on a Sunday, when I would have some fancy movie equipment that didn’t have to be returned until Monday. The soundstage that was going to donate space to us was rented, so my mother, Rochelle Balin, generously allowed her yoga studio to be turned into an impromptu green screen stage, and she even did breathe breaks with Jack and the cast while waiting for their turn to film. We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and Jack sat with me as I edited chunks of his book into the teleprompter and wrote an introduction for us to use as a trailer. As Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame (with whom I had the pleasure of working with on the Vote For Change video postcard campaign I co-directed with Shepard Fairey) read pieces of The Emperor Wears No Clothes from the teleprompter, I knew that we had the makings of an engaging short documentary that would help raise awareness and the necessary funds for the feature length version.

Jack told me that the year I was born, he was my current age of 34, and that he and Captain Ed were sure that it would be just a couple of years of dedication to get hemp re-legalized when they first made their pledge. It was an inspiring and bittersweet day, as we realized that it may be the last time we would all be together with Eddy surrendering himself in a matter of days.

Jack would always chuckle when I said that I was going to sit between him and Jeannie at the Academy Awards, but the feedback was starting to impress even Jack, and he agreed to come down to LA to film one more day in order to cram in a few more celebrity friends and present a short documentary before the deadline for Academy Award consideration. Our Co-Producer, John Deiker, took out a loan so that we could meet the dates, and we filmed at Big Vision Studios.           Co-Producer Rob “420” Griffin brought Money Mark, the infamous keyboard player for the Beastie Boys, and comedian Ralphie May who amused the crowd of celebs waiting patiently for their turn to pay homage to the Hemperor and his life’s work.

My brother and editor, Brandon Balin, donated his time spending countless hours in the editing room to have the edit ready. Mike Tucker e-mailed us artist renderings from a few time zones away, Green House ftp’d footage from Amsterdam, and DJ Dre Ghost of The Hemp Chronicles brought original music with Jack’s voice for us to choose from.

Advanced Nutrients & Green House Seed Co. wired us sponsorship money from overseas in order for us to rent the theatres and ads required to qualify. Wonderful delights were placed into gift bags that guests received as they took photos on a hemp carpet provided by Substance Coterie Inc. “To be honest, I’m surprised that you were able to pull it off!”  With a rough tousle of my hair, and a sloppy kiss to my forehead, Jack promised me that he would see the movie all the way through with me to the end, and I promised him the same.

Jack’s last words to me were from the road, two days before his heart attack in Portland. I was in Amsterdam at dinner with “The King of Cannabis,” Arjan Roskam. We put Jack on the speaker phone so we could discuss preparations for our much anticipated European premiere at the High Times’ Cannabis Cup. “When we both get back,” Jack emphasized, “we have to do everything we can to get Eddy Lepp out of prison.”

Jack had asked me to come film his much anticipated meeting with Rick Simpson in the Czech Republic on their Hemp is Medicine Tour with Dr. Lumir Hanus, so when Bayer and Romsey asked myself and Chuck Jacobs to still attend in tribute to Jack Herer, it was hard to say no. So, with only days notice and tears still in our eyes with concerns for Jack’s survival, we packed our bags and headed to the Czech.

It has been down the rabbit hole ever since, like Alice in Wonderland… smoke this… drink this… eat this… Around the globe I have had the honor to get to know Jack through the memories and anecdotes of some of his oldest friends and colleagues, like Mattias Bruckers, Steve Hagar, Kathrin Gebhardt, Ben Dronkers, Mila Jansen, Arjan Roskam, Bret Bogue, and Soma. They have let me into their hearts and their homes and shared so much with me, as I stumble along trying to piece together the story Jack wanted me to tell, without him around to whisper to me who’s who and what’s what…

As he fought for his very life, I have been constantly touched to see how many people are taking up the torch he has passed so that his voice will still be heard. We premiered in Europe at the High Times Cannabis Cup, showed in Vienna with a Global Call to Action panel at Cultiva, held private industry screenings at Sundance, premiered in Berlin at the Hanf (Hemp) Museum, and played with Spanish subtitles at Spannabis in Barcelona. We announced winners of the International Jack Herer soundtrack contest at the High Times Doobie Awards in Austin, Texas, and raised money for Jack’s Recovery Fund in Spokane, Washington at the first Hemp Can Save the Planet benefit and in LA at the Medical Marijuana Educational Expo & Symposium. All the while, I am missing him though he is ever present. I plow forward knowing that he has dedicated so many years and sacrificed so much to keep his message alive.

April 15, 2010- The Hemperor Is Dead. Long Live Jack Herer.

Even though we all know that Jack is now in a better place, freed from the prison of his physical body, I am still in a state of total shock to hear of his death. As I packed for the International Cannabis Hemp Expo in San Francisco the weekend before 4/20 where a tribute to Jack was already scheduled, I could not help but think that Jack Herer’s passing, just hours before tax filing deadlines, is his final emphatic reminder to us that there should be NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!

We began filming the feature length documentary that Jack and I had planned together during the THC Expose. Condolences and RSVP’s poured in from around the world. We were joined by the former Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, B-Real of Cypress Hill, pro-wrestler Rob Van Dam, and LouDog of Kottonmouth Kings. A moving service was held at the Expose concurrent to Jack’s funeral for anyone unable to leave the Convention Center, with tribute speeches shared by myself, Bret Bogue of Apothecary Genetics, Ed Rosenthal, Dion Markgraaff of NUG Magazine, Franco of Green House Seed Co., Ken Estes of GrandDaddy Purp Collective, and Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project. Jack Herer will be greatly missed and remembered forever and ever and ever.

Rest in Peace, Jack Herer. Although, anyone who knew Jack Herer knows that he will not likely rest, even in death, until marijuana is legal and all pot prisoners are out of jail.

To find out how you can help support Jack Herer’s family, the Jack Herer Museum & Hemporium, and to continue Jack Herer’s message of the truth about hemp and its history, please visit

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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