Pubdate: Fri, 14 Apr 2000
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2000, Ventura County Star
Author: Elena Jarvis


Just mentioning the word "hemp" is enough to arouse knowing smirks. For 
filmmakers Jeff Jones and Jeff Meyers of Double J Films in Ventura, it gets 
doors slammed in their faces.

"Forget about coverage in most mainstream publications," Meyers said.

"We can't even get coverage in the alternative papers, where you think 
they'd be glomming all over," Jones interjected.

Their "Emperor of Hemp" doesn't tout recreational marijuana use. It isn't a 
wild-eyed response to hemp's continued prohibition. It isn't even about 
pot. Really.

Ostensibly a documentary on Van Nuys resident Jack Herer and his 30-year, 
David vs. Goliath battle to legalize the plant, the film brings troubling 
issues to the surface.

It's an absorbing story of how a  Goldwater Republican, Army vet and 
Vietnam War supporter turned into the world's foremost proponent of hemp

legalization. Herer (he likes to say his name rhymes with "terror") 
believes hemp is civilization's salvation, as outlined in his best-selling 
"The Emperor Wears No Clothes," subtitled "Hemp and the Marijuana 
Conspiracy ... How Hemp Can Save the World."

Jones, an award-winning producer/director/writer of commercials for 
companies such as Ford, Toyota, Anheuser-Busch and breakfast-food giant 
Kellogg, knew nothing about hemp when he was approached by veteran 
journalist Meyers.

"I was a big fan of Jeff's writing when we both lived in St. Louis. And I 
go in and out of this thing of wanting to do something longer than 30 
seconds," Jones said. "After reading Jack's book, I was flabbergasted at 
the things I learned. I was fascinated. My reaction was everybody should 
know this and the issues. My goal was to be able to show this film to 
anybody, whether they are activists or not."

Hemp is a widely cultivated Asian herb of the mulberry family that produces 
a tough, durable fiber. From antiquity on, derivatives of the plant have 
been used to produce paper, fabric, food and medicine. Today it is 
harvested throughout the world -- and in every industrialized country 
except the United States -- for those very purposes.

Hemp's guilt by association with its potent cousin, cannabis sativa, makes 
it suspect among millions of Americans. Although pot is produced from the 
flowering tops of reproducing female plants, industrial-grade hemp lacks 
the ability to reach that stage. Even so, the federal government lumps the 
two plants together as dangerous drugs.

It is against this backdrop that Meyers and Jones examine the long, often 
strange, laws against hemp, from its prohibition in 1937 to current policy.

The story behind the story is intriguing as well. For a darkly humorous 
account, go to the filmmakers' Web site,

After a failed attempt to sell a football documentary on the 
precedent-setting 1974 players' strike, Meyers had an idea: Why not do a 
documentary on Herer and his book, now in its 11th printing?

"I will never forget the day he called me with the idea," said Jones, 
laughing. "I'm thinking, 'We can't sell something about the NFL, how are we 
going to do this on Herer?'"

Meyers enlisted the help of director Oliver Stone, to whom he'd sent a 
story proposal on the strength of Stone's reputation for being a Hollywood 
rebel. Stone hooked Meyers up with a producer and a trailer was made to 
entice investors.

Meyers, eager to get going, spent his own money to make a longer film about 
marijuana prohibition, then tapped Jones to form an independent filmmaking 
company, Double J.

Next came a quarter of a million dollars' worth of pennies from heaven.

After reading that Anita Roddick, owner-founder of The Body Shop, was 
scheduled to speak at a business lunch in Ventura, Meyers decided to try 
approaching her in person. Roddick, whose stores feature many hemp 
products, agreed to sign on as executive producer. Others chipped in, too. 
Bonnie Raitt loaned a tune to the soundtrack. Peter Coyote, the voice of 
the 72nd annual Academy Awards, is the film's narrator. Bill Maher of 
"Politically Incorrect" gave "Emperor of Hemp" a thumbs-up, calling it "A 
triumph for the open-minded."

And yet, "Even the independent papers don't want to hear about the issues," 
Meyers complained. "I don't know if it's laziness, apathy or the fact that 
everything is owned by corporations these days."

Ultimately, "Emperor of Hemp" is more than an indictment of America's "War 
on Drugs" and authorities who trample civil rights in their crusade. It is 
a succinct, scary story that digs deep into the current state of democracy, 
particularly the Bill of Rights and specifically, First and Fourth 
Amendment protections. Freedom of speech and the press, people's right to 
privacy and to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure are all 
part of the equation.

After a long career as a journalist -- he wrote for both the St. Louis Post 
Dispatch and the Los Angeles Times -- Meyers now is a freelance writer of 
both films and books. His most recent print venture was ghostwriting "How 
to Grow Medical Marijuana" with cancer patient Todd McCormick, now serving 
five years in prison for cultivation.

Meyers also is a writing coach and part-time journalism instructor at the 
University of California, Los Angeles. Following a debate with one of his 
students, history major Janie Porter, Meyers challenged her to watch 
"Emperor of Hemp."

"I would consider myself a hardcore conservative, so when I sat down to 
watch this movie, I expected to hear the rantings and ravings of potheads 
who thought that it was unfair that marijuana is considered an illegal 
drug," Porter acknowledged. "Boy, was I surprised. Because the video began 
from a conservative perspective, with Jack Herer's life, from his service 
in the military to his diehard Republican days to his life-changing first 
experience with hemp.

"If I had a ballot in front of me right now that was for legalizing hemp, I 
would vote yes," Porter added. "Not only did the documentary greatly sway 
my opinion, it made me wonder why hemp is illegal, who made it so, and who 
the laws hurt most."

Such reactions are typical once people give the film a chance, the 
filmmakers said.

"When people finally sit down and watch this thing, we haven't gotten 
anything but glow," Jones said. "It's always the same surprise, the same 
'Holy Cow!'"

Both give major credit to Steven Kopp, general manager at Avenue Cable in 
Ventura, for taking the time to screen the video, despite initial 
reservations. He agreed to give the film its first public airing tonight, 
followed by an encore presentation on Thursday.
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