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Review: 'High Times: A 40 Year History of the World's Most Infamous Magazine'

The original mid-’70s issues of High Times before the magazine was a monthly. These are all collectibles.

Forty years of High Times is condensed into a new three-pound door stopper, courtesy of powerHouse Books. It's mostly a picture book containing covers and assorted photos, plus essays by staffers and several celebrity interviews. 

Head honcho Michael Kennedy leads off (after a foreword by Tommy Chong) with a history lesson about the magazine's origins under the leadership of mercurial pot smuggler turned media mogul Tom Forçade (soft "c"): 

"What Tom created with High Times was in reality a classical farce: A dramatic, comedic work with highly improbable plot situations, given to extravagant slapstick elements with exaggerated unpredictable characters who intended to overthrow all authority through the power of their words, without firing a shot, all while smoking a Rasta-sized spliff."

Newly installed editor-in-chief Dan Skye's essay covers High Times' golden years (1974-1978), before Forçade committed suicide, leaving the staff and new Trustees wondering where the magazine would go from there (1979-1983). 

"By 1975, the agenda of High Times was clear," Skye writes. "It covered drugs around the world, from Amsterdam to Morocco to Mexico and beyond… The magazine gave heavy coverage to the business of pot smuggling… Early appearances by Bob Marley, Dr. Andrew Weil and Jimmy Buffett amped the magazine's credibility."

Post-Forçade, High Times lost focus as power struggles for control of the magazine led to questionable content, such as cocaine covers and centerfolds. The times were  a-changing, with the Reagan administration making marijuana one of its chief enemies. "High Times soldiered on without him in the year following his death," Skye says about Forçade, "but the path wasn't always clear."

Senior cultivation reporter Danny Danko tackles the next decade (1984-1993), which saw the decline in smuggling and the rise of personal cultivation. "Rather than focus on exotic foreign locales with huge marijuana fields as far as the eye can see, High Times placed the emphasis on creating your own pot, here at home, in small spaces," he explains.

While hydroponic equipment and seed companies began filling the pages with advertisements, there was a price to be paid by 1990 when the DEA launched Operation Green Merchant, which targeted said advertisers and the magazine as a co-conspirator to flood America with illegal marijuana. "Ultimately, the magazine survived the government's assault," Danko notes. "However, a large segment of the hydroponic industry still refuses to advertise in High Times or associate their companies with marijuana in any way. Thirty years later… the institutional memory and the stigma still remain."

The next decade (1994-2003), chronicled by senior editor Bobby Black, reflects the swing back to good times for the magazine, rivaling the original golden years. He discusses the rise of the Internet, the magazine's embrace of hip-hop, the growth of the Cannabis Cup, the devastating impact of 9/11 and the company's maddening decision in 2003 to install a new editorial team whose goal was to "get rid of the pot and make HT a literary journal." 

Recent editor-in-chief Chris Simunek details the confusion this caused in the final essay that covers the mag's fourth decade. "It was like Playboy getting rid of the naked ladies," Simunek opines. "It was a case of bad decisions followed by worse decisions; of dropping numbers followed by panic… This 'new" audience they were talking about… never showed."

Towards the end of his essay Simunek acknowledges the current cultural and political zeitgeist that's led to "the age of legal cannabis." With High Times turning 40, he observes, "What a wonderful coincidence that this is happening at the same time that marijuana prohibition is crumbling."

The only other words are provided by a handful of archival interviews: Bob Marley (1976), John Waters (1983), Noam Chomsky (1998) and Roseanne Barr (2013).

There are 237 covers included in this 302-page hardcover tome. Some of the sundry photos included are faded, blurry and at times unintelligible. But this is a fun look back at "world's most infamous magazine."

Note: The author of this article worked for High Times from 1988-2007.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.