Baking Bad: A Potted History of ‘High Times’
Michael Kennedy: In the 1990s, we also developed, for a time, a [quarterly] magazine called Hemp Times. We were quite successful with that in terms of selling the magazine, and we even opened a store called Planet Hemp near the East Village. Our problem was that we were too early, because it was almost impossible to get hemp products then.
Dan Skye (executive editor): We were there trying to push this hemp thing along. We did Hemp Times for four years; we did eighteen issues total. All of us back then thought hemp was really going to open the door and make weed legal, and everything would fall like dominoes. Unfortunately, it didn’t—and what really has done it is medical marijuana.
Michael Kennedy: Tom and I talked a lot before he died about what we imagined the future of marijuana would be, but neither one of us caught on early to the real inroad—that would be the medical properties of marijuana. The research had not been done. So what we knew was that it had a high recreational value, and that we loved it and that many people loved it—but we never imagined anything beyond that. So if today, Tom came back from a desert island and saw the Sanjay Gupta show, he’d say, “Wow… that’s my dream.”
David Bienenstock (feature writer): For about three years, starting in 2010, we had a stand-alone publication about medical marijuana. Legalization is a huge story, but what we’re finding out about the true medical potential of cannabis is a huge, huge story.
Dan Skye: We used to be the bible of marijuana news. You came to High Times to find out about drug war news. And now we have a very successful website. We’ve got a new website director; we got 1 million unique web clicks last month alone. And people want to come to a marijuana festival. The fact that it’s legal for medical use in California, that it’s legal for recreational use in Colorado and Washington—we’ve had these tremendously successful events, the Cannabis Cups. There are Medical Cannabis Cups in places like California and Michigan, and US Cannabis Cups in Colorado and Washington. And I don’t think there’s a trade-off at all. Our magazine’s getting stronger—we’re adding pages. That’s unheard of in this time.
Mary McEvoy (publisher): I was just talking to our printer about the next issue. We got an additional sixteen pages. And after that one, we have our bong special, and we’re thinking about going up in pages for that. So I talked to him, and he said, “You’re the only publisher that I’ve talked to in years that is looking for additional paper to put in the magazine.” We’re not hurting advertisement-wise at this point. The whole media world out there is crying in their booze right now, but we’ve been very lucky. Our readers are very loyal, and our advertisers sure get a response from them.
Danny Danko (senior cultivation editor): Tons of companies are coming in to advertise. A lot of the vapor-pen companies, a lot of the hydroponics companies that sort of shied away from us years ago because they didn’t want that connection to marijuana, have come around because they’re just not afraid of the stigma anymore. That’s one of the things I think High Times has done a good job of—just removing the stigma of the “lazy stoner.” Instead, we try to show that whether it’s in the entertainment business or sports or wherever, we are everywhere. We are doctors and lawyers; we are throughout society and in every part of it. And I think High Times is one of the things that have reinforced the truth rather than the cliché.
Michael Kennedy: The key to High Times’s survival is that I’ve never let High Times break the law. Our clients have broken the law, and our business partners have broken the law, I suppose, and even our advertising people. High Times has survived a lot of grand juries and a lot of inquiries and a lot of attacks from the IRS and what-have-you, but the thing that almost brought us to our knees was in 1989, when the DEA advanced Operation Green Merchant to go after the hydroponics people. All of those advertisers, they were our advertising base. [Federal law enforcement agencies] also kept subpoenaing our subscriber list, and we refused to give it to them. We were threatened with contempt several times. But when they attacked our advertisers and took them out of business—that was the nadir of our existence. And it was really hard to come back.
Around that time, the joke around here was that law enforcement was keeping us in business. Every sheriff in the South had a subscription to High Times. The DEA had I don’t know how many hundreds, the FBI… so there were all these subscriptions.
Chris Simunek (editor in chief): Are they still spying on us? Well, if you’ve read the headlines recently, they are probably spying on all of us. I tell you, when those headlines broke recently and everyone was so shocked that the government was reading our e-mails, I looked at the whole thing and was like, “I always believed that they were doing this.” So I have always gone forward as if the government is reading everything.
Jen Bernstein (managing editor): Are we scared? I think there is always a fear. We went to Detroit and followed every rule in the book. We were at Bert’s Warehouse, which is in downtown Detroit. We were holding a Medical Cannabis Cup, in which we have vendors, and an expo, and seminars, and we provide an open-air smoking area for medical patients in the state of Michigan to come and medicate. The cops came and essentially shut down the smoking area outside. Allowed the expo to continue—they just didn’t want people openly smoking marijuana. And these are legit patients. So, yes, there is a fear, and it’s a fear of us not being able to protect the patients of Michigan. Michigan is not a legal state, so until we have complete legalization, there’s always a risk—because, federally, we are not protected.
Chris Simunek: At the beginning, I was working basically with criminals, trying to get them to do pieces for us. Now that’s gotten easier as the laws have changed. But we’re still dependent on a criminal element to get the job done. We don’t consider them criminals—the laws of America make them criminals. So we work hand in hand. And I would say that’s a pretty big difference between us and Forbes, although I guess Forbes probably works with a lot of criminals, too.
Dan Skye: You’ll see a lot of hypocrisy in the media world. We don’t get access, even though we’re members of the press like anyone else…. Publicists like to get their clients into High Times, but they don’t want their clients to be seen with marijuana, or don’t want them to talk about marijuana. Especially celebrities—we have to deal with that all the time. I’ve interviewed countless celebrities: Bryan Cranston, Alanis Morissette... I did Oliver Stone a few years back. And very seldom will you get somebody to pose with pot. Woody Harrelson wouldn’t even pose with pot! Alanis Morissette was the first really mainstream person who posed in a pot garden. So that’s a real problem—getting people into our ballpark. We like celebrities, but unless they’re on the cover with pot, like Oliver Stone was, we don’t do it.
Chris Simunek: There are some great stars out there that are very pro-pot who have yet to be on the cover. I mean, Rihanna is always Instagramming herself smoking a joint. Zach Galifianakis is pretty cool and forward about it. Those are two I would be interested in…. And I guess you know that Snoop Dogg is still pretty much on top as far as pot-smoking celebrities are concerned. He has managed to maintain his profile for so long and diversify everything he does—products, reality show, pornography, everything from movies to music. His business model, whatever it is, is pretty astounding. He’s a guy that even my dad has heard of, and my dad also knows that he smokes pot.