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Baking Bad: A Potted History of ‘High Times’ | The Nation

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Baking Bad: A Potted History of ‘High Times’

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Danny Danko: When I started off in the cultivation department, I had to ride in the trunk of a car to go and see some of these growrooms. People were so scared to show me regular-size—well, what I would consider fairly average-size—grows. Now you go and see these massive operations in California, Colorado—all over, really—and I never thought I would see the day that people would be walking me on tours of huge, indoor pot-growing facilities that are perfectly legal under state law. It is kind of mind-blowing… but once the dominoes start to fall, they fall so fast it’s hard to keep up.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the November 18, 2013, issue of The Nation.

Elise McDonough (West Coast design and production director): After the medical marijuana laws started to pass, especially on the West Coast, more and more people got into making edibles and distributing them through collectives and dispensaries. We’re in an era where people go way beyond the pot brownie. Now you see cannabis in savory sauces, drink mixes, candy bars. You’re just getting better and better edibles, and the thing that’s advancing the industry is lab testing. Before, you couldn’t tell how much THC you’d get in a dose—but now you can test and know exactly how much you’re going to ingest. It’s especially helpful for people who are insomniacs or chronic-pain patients. The difference between smoking and eating pot is that you have a body effect that lasts longer, so if you have back pain, you can get relief for six to eight hours.

The first story in High Times about edibles was called “Eat It,” in 1978. That was a story written by a guy who worked as a sailor and traveled around the world and tried edible marijuana in Turkey and Greece. He had a hash candy called majoun, which is hash sautéed in butter with mixed dates and nuts and spices rolled into a ball. It’s like a baklava without filo dough.

We also had Chef Ra’s “Psychedelic Kitchen” column, which started in the ’80s. Chef Ra, sadly, passed away several years ago, but we’ve continued the recipe column with different contributing chefs along the way. We do recipes online, and there’s also a recipe in the magazine every month.

Bobby Black: I wouldn’t say I consider us “the most dangerous magazine in America.” The most notorious, maybe, but not dangerous. We’ve represented an outlaw and counterculture ethos for so long that, like you say, it’s becoming mainstream now. But what I would also like to say is that we haven’t come to the mainstream; the mainstream has come to us. The same thing is true with civil rights, the revolution in the ’60s, the sexual revolution.

Danny Danko: I think that with the Internet, the distinction between mainstream culture and the counterculture is fading. I don’t think there is any one counterculture. That’s always sort of been associated with the hippie movement, which is a part of our culture—but it’s not all of our culture. We reach out to all. Marijuana users are everybody, and we try to reach out to all of them.

Rick Cusick: Every year, I go to the Boston Freedom Rally and give a speech. We’re sponsors of the rally. It’s been going on for twenty-four years, and there were over 30,000 people there last year. I was there in 2007 with Keith Stroup from NORML. It was kind of rainy, and Keith said, “You want to smoke a joint?” And I said sure. Then this kid came up to us. We thought he wanted a hit, but he was an undercover cop. He had no idea who we were. So he took us to a tent where they arraigned people. They said, “Step up—what’s your name?” I said, “Rick Cusick.” They said, “Where do you live?” Told ’em. “What’s your Social Security number?” Told ’em. “What do you do?” I said—this was at the time—“I’m the co-editor of High Times magazine.” And the cop looked up and said, “You’re kidding.” I said, “Wait, it gets better!” I slapped Keith on the back and said, “This is Keith Stroup, the founder of NORML and my attorney. And everything we say is on the record.” And they said, “You’re going to write about this?” And I said, “Oh, yeah!”

So we got arrested for a joint, and they arrested sixty people that day. Every year, they arrested a quota of about sixty kids under 25—except this year they got a couple of old guys, and it was early in the game. So we went in there, and of the sixty they arrested, fifty-eight settled and paid their fine. We said no. And so what happened was, we got a NORML lawyer, and Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard University—Keith’s friend; I didn’t known him at that point—got involved in what we were doing and started a defense fund that contributed a very good amount of money for us to travel back and forth. And then he got Dr. Charles Nesson of the Harvard Law School, who worked on the Pentagon Papers case, to be our defense counsel.

After that happened, we had the dream team of American jurisprudence going after a third of a joint. And it took two and a half years. First, the jury found us guilty, because we were. Then we appealed it. The appeal went all the way to the Appeals Court, which was an incredible experience—very high-flown legal stuff. Everybody came in; it was covered in the papers a bit. Then the Appeals Court upheld the lower court, so we went to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, and they refused to hear the case and sent it back down for sentencing. But in the meantime, Massachusetts had decriminalized marijuana—so Keith and I were the last two people sentenced under the old law. And they tried to throw the book at us. The prosecutor said, “I want a six-month suspended sentence, two years’ probation, a $500 fine and fifty hours of community service cleaning up the Boston Common.” And I swear to God, he also asked the judge to prohibit us from entering the Boston Common for two years—“which should keep them from making speeches.” That’s an exact quote. And we looked at each other and said, “Did this guy go to law school?” That’s the First Amendment; it’s the Boston Common! They bled there for the First Amendment, and you’re asking that we be excluded from the fucking Boston Common? And the judge said, “Normally, this is where I go back to my chamber and think about this, but I don’t have to think about this. Everybody stand up. You’re sentenced to jail for one day—equal to the amount of time you were in the custody of the Boston police.” And then it was all over.

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Michael Kennedy: Things have changed dramatically since we started the magazine. But I, personally, can never feel a sense of vindication, primarily because I am so steeped in the laws inflicted on people. I know that Tom would be buoyant and feel vindicated immediately. But then he would say, “Our job isn’t finished until we get every person who’s in prison under any form of marijuana conviction out.” It’s one of the reasons that High Times hired me. I’m their lawyer, and now I ended up being one of the principals. I’m still basically their lawyer. I’ve done marijuana cases for as long as I can remember, and there are still people who have done twenty years in prison or have life sentences for no violence—just pot. They got life in prison with no possibility of parole. Now that’s very hard to believe.

David Bienenstock: I feel great about the changes in the pot world, provided we learn the right lessons. You look at the mainstream and the corporate press, there’s this idea and this rash of stories that now that Wall Street is getting involved, marijuana is legitimate. The idea that the marijuana industry needs to take its ethics lessons from Wall Street is ridiculous. And second of all, it’s really offensive to people who have not just spent their time and energy making this happen, but in many, many cases risked their freedom quite literally. So to see the issue hitting the mainstream is fantastic, but I think we need to learn the right lesson—which is that the counterculture was right about this. Not that Wall Street and big business are going to legitimize it. I think that’s exactly the wrong lesson.

Also In This Issue

Katrina vanden Heuvel: “Why Its Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana

Mike Riggs: “Obama’s War on Pot

Carl L. Hart: “Pot Reform’s Race Problem

Harry Levine: “The Scandal of Racist Marijuana Possession Arrests—and Why We Must Stop Them

Martin A. Lee: “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom: The Populist Politics of Cannabis Reform

Martin A. Lee: “The Marijuana Miracle: Why a Single Compound in Cannabis May Revolutionize Modern Medicine

Kristen Gwynne: “Can Medical Marijuana Survive in Washington State?

Various Contributors: “The Drug War Touched My Life: Why I’m Fighting Back

And only online…

J. Hoberman: “The Cineaste’s Guide to Watching Movies While Stoned

Harmon Leon: “Pot Block! Trapped in the Marijuana Rescheduling Maze

Seth Zuckerman: “Is Pot-Growing Bad for the Environment?

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