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Cannabis Culture

The History of High Times Magazine

The History of High Times

Right around the time President Nixon declared the war on drugs, stating that they were public enemy number one, in the streets of New York, a new magazine took to the shelves. Considered the greatest counter-culture publication of all time, at its peak it reached 4 million readers a month and grossed 5 million dollars a year. This magazine was called “High Times”  and has been around for nearly 50 years! 

Who created High Times magazine?

Tom Forcade created High Times magazine. He graduated from Utah University with a degree in business administration. He joined the air force for a brief period, but was ultimately discharged. Using skills he learned while in the air force, he trafficked drugs from Mexico to Colombia and used the proceeds to form a hippie commune and the underground magazine called Orpheus – essentially the predecessor to High Times. After this experience, he decided to move to New York where he became famous for starting the very first High Times magazine in 1974. 

In order to launch the publication, Forcade rented a ballroom at the National Boutique in 1973. More than a hundred drug paraphernalia companies were featured, along with a promotional flier that included a long list of article ideas. After considering titles like “National Weed,” they decided the magazine would be called High Times.

How quickly did High Times get popular?

The very first cover featured a woman eating a mushroom. Interestingly, this mushrooms as the non-psychedelic variety that they had bought at a supermarket in an effort to be unthreatening and upbeat. The modest print run of 10,000 copies sold out immediately. Since High Times was issued quarterly, there was a three-month long wait in between issues. 

Meanwhile, they printed another 10,000 issues which also sold out immediately, then another 15,000. They upped the print run for the second issue to 25,000 issues, and when that sold out, printed another 25,000. For the third print run, they printed 50,000 copies. For the fourth, 100,000 and then 150,000. By its fifth publication, High Times was a national phenomenon. 

What did High Times report on?

High Times went far beyond its mandate to just report on drugs. They were a viable news operation that had over 200 radio stations linked to them. They were feeding daily reports into these radio stations. High Times played an important role in unveiling the dangers to soldiers in Vietnam through exposure to Agent Orange. No one had heard of Agent Orange, but once its use as a defoliant in Vietnam was exposed in High Times, Vietnam veterans initiated an ultimately successful suit against the government. 

The United States was spraying cannabis fields in Mexico with a product called paraquat, and mixed it with another herbicide called 2-4D, which together created Agent Orange. It was just one of a series of heavy duty chemicals the U.S. military used in Southeast Asia called rainbow herbicides. Some 20 million gallons were sprayed on jungles in Southeast Asia between the period of 1962 to 1971. As a result, many soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war were affected by Agent Orange. High Times helped to expose this scandal.

Did Tom Forcade keep running High Times?

As the years went on, Forcade never took a salary from High Times. He was a rich man, because his drug activities were going even better than his publishing business. All High Times profits went to fund other projects. There’s even a story that tells of Forcade giving the founder of NORMAL, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, $10,000 to keep the company from going under. 

In Forcade’s later years, he suffered from depression and ultimately passed away from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1978. In his will, the High Times founder had left stock to NORMAL. Another clause stipulated that in the year 2000, employees who had been on staff for at least 10 years would inherit some of the money he had leftover but this never happened. 

Has High Times always been successful?

High Times has rescued itself from the brink of bankruptcy several times. It is still around today, so in a way, it has been quite successful – though not equally at every time throughout its publication. 

Did High Times magazine have any other impact on the world of cannabis?

One of the best events and ideas that High Times magazine had was the creation of the Cannabis Cup. Starting in the 1980s in Amsterdam, a collection of cannabis breeders came together in one location and celebrated cannabis at a never-before-seen level. There were many different strains available from many different growers. It was the Mecca of cannabis culture. Following the relaxing of cannabis laws in the U.S., High Times magazine began to host the Cannabis Cup stateside. 

Many big names have come out of High Times magazine. For example, Ed Rosenthal was one of the original authors for the magazine. High Times has also played an instrumental role in legalization in terms of spreading awareness of cannabis. 

How has High Times magazine changed over the years?

As the company changed hands from family owners to independents, the focus on the mission of spreading awareness and encouraging change has been diluted somewhat. There was a time when High Times magazine was a counter-culture publication that stood for the people. The same can’t be said for it today. Like many companies, as time has gone on it has focused more on profit and less on being a good employer or exposing injustice.

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