Book Review: Malcolm MacKinnon's 'Pot Shots: The Journey of a High Times Photographer'

"Pot Shots" via Palmetto Publishing and author Malcolm MacKinnon

'Tis the season for High Times books. Let's Get Baked: The Official Cannabis Cookbook from High Times comes out November 28. There's Sean Howe's sprawling history, Agents of Chaos: Thomas King Forcade, High Times and the Paranoid End of the 1970s, which was released in August. And then there's Malcolm MacKinnon's just-issued Pot Shots: The Journey of a High Times Photographer. This review focuses on the latter book.

MacKinnon worked at High Times from 1989-2014. He rose up from a section editor and staff photographer eventually to become editor-in-chief. That's not how MacKinnon initially envisioned his career. Despite having no publishing or photo experience, he was able to latch onto High Times, thanks to his late friend Peter Gorman, who worked at the stoner mag (so did I). They became a writer-photographer team, heading West to cover peyote use among Native Americans and other subjects.

"MacKinnon was into hemp before it was called CBD." 

"There was never a dull moment at High Times." MacKinnon writes in the introduction. "I was surrounded by intelligent, highly creative people. And without a doubt marijuana inspired the staff. Though I wrote prolifically and had countless features and interviews published, my primary passion was always photography."

He started late with that too; it took his wife, who bought him a Canon AE1 camera, to steer him in that direction. MacKinnon has never looked back.

Dr. Lester Grinspoon in 2014

Well, he does in this book, look back on his lengthy career at High Times when the drug war was in full effect and not one state had yet legalized pot. His main focus is activists and landscapes. Most of the 333 images, including 39 covers, are creative in spirit. Big fields of hemp plants, Western imagery complemented with sundry cannabis or colorful glass pipes and major players in drug-policy reform light up the pages.

MacKinnon is probably best known for his Jack Herer photos; they've been used repeatedly for years. Tommy Chong, who writes the forward, is another favorite. "I've been on the cover of High Times eight times," the stoner icon notes, "more than anyone in its history. Malcolm shot three of my covers."

Woody Harrleson's another; MacKinnon's photos of the hemp-supporting actor appeared on the cover of both High Times and the company's short-lived spin-off, Hemp Times, which he was editor of.

MacKinnon was into hemp before it was called CBD. He covered Harrelson's 1996 arrest for planting hemp seeds in Kentucky and regularly visited the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where one Lakota Sioux farmer, Alex White Plume, from 2000-2002, planted hemp crops that were were raided each year by the Feds. 

Bud shot: High above Alma, Colorado at 14,000 feet

Like Zelig, MacKinnon shows up everywhere, from Dutch cannabis cups to Native reservations to green houses overflowing with plants. When Colorado became the original state to sell legal marijuana, he was the first on line. On Jan. 1, 2014, at 7:59 am, MacKinnon writes:

"I ordered a quarter ounce of Nehi Grape at Marisol. The budtender entered the sale, then we waited one minute. At 8 am on the dot, the exact second of which the state decreed that pot would henceforth be totally legal, he rang it up. That made me the first person to purchase legal recreational pot in America!"

Purchase the book here


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.