The first time I ever heard of Henry Hemp was about 2 months after I moved to Southern California. I was already abound with unbridled exuberance having recently discovered Cannabis Planet, a local T.V. show about pot and it’s heads. I told anyone who would listen that L.A. had Elephantitis of the scrotum and immediately fell in love with the new closest metropolis my suburban ass now sat. One particular episode cut to a scene featuring an over caffeinated, wide-eyed, sprightly face donning a foam hemp headdress pointing and shouting at a Cannabis Planet billboard. Initially my thoughts of this barking lunatic were what my father might describe as a schmendrick with a hall of fame case of the shpilkes.
It is hard to shake off those old world assumptions pounded into your head for decades. At the time I thought it as improbable of me interviewing Henry and his wife January as it would be Lindsay Lohan passing up a mimosa while “shopping” for jewelry. Now 4 years later as our paths cross I’m reminded of the Anti Nowhere League song We Are The League; “You criticize us you say we’re shit but we’re up here and we’re doing it. So don’t criticize the things we do. No one fucking pays to come and see you.”
When I decided to start my journey into Cannabis Culture by interviewing Cannabis and Hemp activist, I imagined my days filled with free highs provided by esoteric strains. What I have come to discover is that each person is struggling for a cause that at least in the short-term isn’t providing what you would call a steady dose of income. Let’s face it, if you can’t afford a lobbying office on K street, raising money for your cause is a struggle. If your cause happens to be a quasi legal substance that has been on the official government prohibition list since 1937, you have less likelihood to raise that money. Even leading a normal life is not easy. If you decide to have a baby while choosing to live in the potlight, it’s best to get the number of a few good lawyers as you can expect Child Protective Services to stick to you like Bush on bullshit. Just ask Henry and January.
Henry as I would find throughout our interview, isn’t shy about telling you the way things are.“ We are only living here temporarily, We’re not rich. “People see this place and they think we have money” he tells me as we walk into a rather swank LA address. Seems the Hemp’s are in transit when it come to nesting as they rely on the kindness of others while things sort themselves out. It is the first of endless stories of how they are getting by literally with a little help from their friends. I quickly discovered preaching non pretension is not a value not only held by Henry as January greets us from the top of the staircase in her bathrobe with toothbrush in hand to explain that she will be down as soon as she finishes up. As with any attentive parents new born Zena came first and I wound up sitting down one at a time with Henry and January.
Anyone who has ever picked up a joint in LA is familiar with the same Henry I am, the unabashed freedom fighter for cannabis and hemp, traveling from event to event spreading the good word of weed. What I wanted to find out is how this boy raised on a 6 acre farm in the Northwest became the Hero of hemp.
Henry grew up on a farm in Washington State and spent most of his time keeping busy hiking, fishing, riding horses and working on the farm. “When the sun came up I had to be out of the house.” At 14 he auditioned for a stage version of Jack and The Beanstalk. 258 kids tried out but Henry received the lead role. This success led to his picture appearing in The Columbian and from that day on he knew acting was for him. Over the next few years Henry appeared in more plays and in 2000 he moved to Seattle to further pursue acting while still staying within close proximity to his parents. It was here that Henry landed his first role in movies, a featured film called Ray of Darkness. With another indication of his ability to progress Henry, or Magic as he was known then (and yes that is his real birth name), decided to move to LA).
In the mist of his career plans Henry began to battle a Methamphetamine addiction that he suffered unto for 14 years. He recalls the journal he kept during that time. “ The whole journal basically talks about wanting to be a successful entertainer, performer, actor and help change the world and help people. I didn’t know how, it was always inspirational stuff even though I was in a dark place. Somehow all that landed me here. So now with everything that happens I learned to be appreciative, thankful, and grateful no matter how bad the situation seems to most, I find a way to laugh about it, learn from it, and see where the lesson that the universe is trying to share with me is. Sometimes things that you don’t like will repeat and keep happening to you until you accept and just understand wow that’s just something that happens. Then it doesn’t become a big deal anymore once you acknowledge that fact. So I was really driven to leave because of always wanting to become an actor, but I also knew that the only way I would get away from meth is if I got away from all those types of friends.” Henry has been meth free for over a year now. “So anyway I moved out to California and a little over 3 years ago I was asked to be in a parade and to wear a hat, be a pothead and carry a sign. I was walking home on Hollywood Boulevard and people started stopping me and taking pictures and giving me money. I was sleeping in my car, but I had a job. I transferred to the Olive Garden in Burbank. I’ve just gone through the struggles. Basically every E Hollywood story you’ve ever heard, I guess I have that similar stuff. Struggles from everything from drug addiction to job to job to job to job.” While hiking on the path of drug addiction Henry managed to get himself charged with 26 felonies, arrested 25 times, along with stretches in jail that include 6 and 9 months. Most of this occurring many years ago, in his late teens and early 20s. He credits these experiences for his honesty, pursuit of truth, and passion for speaking of love and peace.
Battling a meth addiction that at times found him in the trees speaking to the shadow men, Henry still managed to land roles as an actor. He appeared in the first episode of Heroes as well as the movie Red Sands. Realizing that the way to actually meet and talk to decision makers was to work on crew or as a personal assistant. he started taking jobs on film crews. One job found him working on a camera crew with Jeffrey Peterson, The 420 Comic. It was here that the genesis of Henry Hemp was formed. “ When they started Cali Chronic X Magazine they gave me my first Henry Hemp print. Which was pretty cool. It just started spinning from there. When I worked with Terry Joyce on the movie she ended up being partners with January Thomas who is the love of my life now. My baby’s momma. It is kind of weird how it’s all working out. I’m quite amazed, yet I live my life by the feeling of my gut. I quit thinking that I know what is best and my gut seems to guide me to where I need to go. My gut lets me know where I need to go.” A little less thinking and a little more doing I suggest. “ Yea, I feel more now.”
I tried to steer the conversation back to Henry’s meth addiction. I like drugs and over the years I’ve tried a nice variety but I have always had the ability to tell myself I’ve had enough and it is time to move on. Contrary to what The Eagles might have you believe you can check in anytime you want, however, you better never forget how to leave. I asked Henry what drew him to the high of meth. What made it a degenerative staple of his life for 14 years. “I’m a person that wants to touch the burner and see how hot it is.” was all the response I got. What made him keep his hand firmly grasped to the burner remains a mystery to me and perhaps Henry as well. What was clear is that Henry doesn’t see that part of his life as time without any redeeming features. “If there’s a challenge or an obstacle for me I’m not afraid to tackle a new challenge because I’ve had so many obstacles and challenges in my life. So through all this I’ve just learned to believe in myself and that’s one of the messages I want to share with people. Believe in the abilities you have, don’t doubt. Doubt is just a miserable disease. Now I constantly say I’m thankful, I’m grateful. I thankful and grateful and I list these things. I gotta believe that a lot of things that are happening now are because of the positive thinking I’m putting out into the universe. When I used to think bad stuff I was doing jail time, getting arrested, and doing drugs, more jail time, quitting jobs, and getting fired.” As a firm believer in Karma Henry’s reasoning makes sense to me. .
The notion that being a father is full of late night hugs after scary dreams, kissing scratches before applying stingy ointments, and fancy tea parties while sitting in Smurf sized chairs is antiquated at best. While those occurrences do occupy pages in the scrapbook of fatherhood, just when you think you’ve got a grasp on things, puberty sets in. Then you are going to experience, and on a much more regular basis, things such as sniffing out pointless lies and counting how many beers you left in the fridge. Once puberty ends they move out and your relationship takes another turn. In the end you realize that 10 percent of the happiness is worth 100 percent of the grief, or so they say. When I sat down with Henry, baby Zena was barely starting her 2nd month of womblessness and we were both anxious to talk about how this novice dad was coming along. “ Like all the parents that told me there are no words to actually express the feeling you experience at that moment and time that baby pops out and joins the world. There’s just this rush of emotion and you have now this whole different purpose. All those things that were kind of important before aren’t so important. Now more important is taking care of this little baby.” Child Protective Services have visited Henry and January in the hospital as well at home. They have been asked to sign forms with an attorney present and to submit to testing. Henry doesn’t take this personally at all as he understands that this type of scrutiny is expected when you are pictured smoking a joint in front of The Whitehouse. In fact you could say he considers it just another opportunity to educated the masses. “C.P.S. is only doing what they are doing because they are uneducated. They don’t have the truth and they are coming from old propaganda. If the Hemp’s can’t stand up for truth who can?”
Henry has successfully navigated his way through a labyrinthine walled with drugs and searching for the meaning of his existence. No regrets on his part as he understands that all his past brought him to the happy place he is at today. Now he has a clear idea of where his future lies. “Henry Hemp has realized that the people of the world are his kings and queens and I am just their jester. I’m here to enlighten the mood while all the kings and queens are fighting around the world about who’s best, who’s this, who’s that, Henry Hemp is there to make everybody smile and laugh and go ahead and lay out the truth.”