The Nation has posted A Potted History of High Times. Current and former staffers are interviewed for the story. Had The Nation asked me about my experiences working at High Times (from 1988 to 2007), and the changes in pot culture over the last three decades, this is what I would've told them:
High Times was a revelation for me. First of all, the office on E. 43 St. reminded me of my college newspaper office. It was fun and loose. You could smoke pot in the office. The art department was always smoked out. In fact, in order to get my news pages done, I had to bring a joint or roll one up so the art department would be properly buzzed and in the right mood to lay out pages. That changed when the office moved to 19 St. and Park Ave. So. Smoking was banned in the office, commencing many years of playing cat and mouse with the bosses and the building. Sometimes it got so bad we had to go on the roof, hit the street or head next door to a friend's apartment. It was not very cool to have a band come up to the office and have to tell then there's no smoking allowed.
My first few years at the magazine were a whirlwind. The Hemp Tour was in full swing and I found myself attending marijuana events all over the country. One trip really sticks out. That's when we drove from New York to Ann Arbor in a psychedelic bus that broke down several times as we hit snow and needed to make numerous repair pit stops, but we made it. The next day a troupe of us dressed in patriotic outfits marched on the Diag at the University of Michigan to commence the 1989 Hash Bash.
I ran the 5th Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam with photographer Andre Grossmann. Founded by then editor-in-chief Steve Hager, the Cup was in a nascent stage when he sent Andre and I over. Hager gave us a few leads, Andre had some coffeeshop contacts, and we just winged it. The event was not yet open to the public. We distributed samples to judges, compiled their scores and announced the winners at an intimate dinner for about 30 people. I attended the Cup many times over the years. My favorite was the Bob Marley Cup in 1998. My job was to make sure Rita Marley got there and accepted in behalf of Bob. We also hoped she would perform with the Cannabis Cup Band. Rita missed her first flight, but arrived a day later just in time for the night's ceremony. At soundcheck she liked the band and joined them on "One Draw" and a few other Bob tunes. That night Rita wowed the crowd like the Jamaican royalty she is. After she left, we found out she almost burned down her room.
What I most liked about working at High Times was being able to wear so many hats. You could be a writer, editor, advocate, activist, concert promoter, record producer, media gadfly. I wore all those hats during my nearly two decades with the company.
Cover shoots were alway memorable and highly secretive. I handled many of them, booking the celebrity, making sure there was plenty of pretty pot to photograph, working with the art director and other staffers on the concept. One of my favorites was our shoot with Kal Penn for the first Harold & Kumar flick. Since the movie was about having the munchies and going to White Castle, I went to my neighborhood White Castle in Brooklyn the morning of the shoot. I told them I wanted the cups, wrappers, plastic silverware - just no food. I paid for everything and swiped a blue tray, then headed to the office. Art director Frank Max, working with a bagful of choice buds, did a great job making green burgers and sativa fries, and displayed them on the tray. When Penn saw what we had in mind, he jumped at it. Funny thing was, Penn (at least at the time) didn't eat meat or smoke pot. But it was fun shoot nevertheless.
The best years while I toiled at Trans High Corp. were the mid-'90s when sales soared as pot had become hot again (according to the mainstream media). We had a terrific team of writers who were real journalists, not just wannabe gonzos. There was always pressure to sell magazines, but that fever pitch would come later. For a short period, we could do little wrong. The bosses were hands off and so any subject was open for discussion. That's why we were able to move ahead with a more political agenda that included conspiracy stories and interviews with Mexican revolutionaries.
For a while there was revolving door at the top. Editors kept coming and going. I got caught up in that revolving door as well. One day I was offered a new job - to edit the High Times spin-off, Grow America. We did seven issues before it was folded back into High Times, and I was named one of the mag's three new co-editors. It wasn't as much fun as having autonomy to run Grow America, but I did my best during those two years to put my stamp on High Times. Sales went up, then plateaued and so the revolving door continued to turn. I lost my prized editor gig and decided to step away from the magazine. By 2007, a flap over my book Pot Culture finally pointed me out the door.
The marijuana legalization cause has come a long way since 1988. Medical marijuana dominated the headlines until last year when Colorado and Washington both voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. I figured Amendment 64 would pass in Colorado; Washington's I-502 winning was a bit of a surprise. But the cat is now out of the bag. Expect more states to follow suit soon.
I'm happier these days working for myself. But I do miss the office camaraderie and the daily 420 sessions that inspired so many bright ideas. However, office politics can be a drag, even in a cool work environment like High Times. Many will be surprised that it's business as usual, even at the world's most notorious magazine.