The wonderfully named High Times magazine is widely regarded as the ‘gold standard’ of marijuana publications. It was founded by Tom Forcade in 1974 and, as you can guess, it has been a keen advocate for the legalization of herb. According to its website, High Times has been the ‘preeminent source for cannabis information’ since its foundation.
Forcade was a member of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), which was later known as the Alternative Press Syndicate. It was a group of counterculture newspapers developed in 1966. When he created High Times Magazine, it was initially meant as a joke; Forcade’s idea was to create a marijuana-themed version of Playboy. At the start, urban legend claims that the publication was funded by drug money from the sale of weed.
It was “hard times” for High Times in the beginning because support for legalized marijuana was at an all-time low in the 1960s and 1970s. The herb was demonized and dismissed as the choice of lazy, unmotivated slackers. A Gallup Poll in October 2017 showed that support for legalized weed in America was at 64%. When High Times was founded, it was just 16%, which shows the uphill struggle the magazine has faced over the decades.
More Than a Stoner’s Magazine
Even today, High Times remains a crucial source of cannabis-based information. The publication offers the latest legislative news regarding the herb and its myriad of cannabinoids, scientific research information, and informative guides to growing marijuana at home, among other things. However, High Times prides itself on being one of the drivers of the marijuana-using counterculture.
Over the last few decades, the magazine has worked hard to legitimize weed and fight against the negative stereotypes surrounding marijuana. High Times has produced 12 documentaries to date beginning with D.O.A in 1978. It has also published ten books beginning with The High Times Encyclopedia of Recreational Drugs which was released in 1978.
The magazine has also hosted a variety of marijuana-related awards. Examples include the STASH Awards (for technological advancements in ‘secretive horticulture’), the Counterculture Hall of Fame, and the Freedom Fighter of the Month. The Lester Grinspoon Lifetime Achievement Award is one of its best-known offerings and is named after the famed cannabis activist who was also the first recipient of the award in 2010.
For marijuana growers, the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup and the Cannabis Cup awards are the most coveted prizes on earth. The Medical Cannabis Cup is a recent creation (formed in 2010) and celebrates the best medical marijuana strains.
The legendary Cannabis Cup was founded by Steven Hager in 1988 and was held in Amsterdam every November. Judges from around the world sample and vote for their favorite strains. Categories include Best Indica, Best Sativa, Best Edible, and Best Concentrates. Alas, the publication decided to change venues, and Amsterdam hosted its last event in 2014. The decision was made because of uncertainty over marijuana laws in the Netherlands. In 2010, Dutch police raided the competition!
High Times Magazine Grew Like a Weed
As marijuana was completely illegal, and mainly vilified, in the United States in the 1970s (and 80s and 90s), High Times Magazine faced an almighty struggle just to stay afloat. Slowly but surely, public opinion turned in favor of legalized marijuana (medicinally at least), and the magazine’s hard work paid off. By 1987, the magazine was selling 500,000 copies per issue.
When it entered the Internet age, its website’s popularity took off, and by 2014, it was read by up to five million people per month. Currently, the publication has 40 full-time staff and covers everything from politics, activism and music to sex, movies and cannabis research.
High Times Mag: New Rivals = New Challenges
For decades, High Times reigned supreme as the #1 marijuana-themed publication. However, the trailblazer has been challenged by new contenders in the last decade or so, as public opinion has shifted toward legalizing weed. The magazine was in real danger in the last few years as profits tumbled. In 2014, it still made a decent $3.4 million profit, but within two years, it suffered a $2.9 million loss as circulation and advertising declined, mainly due to the emergence of rival companies such as Merry Jane.
In 2017, a group of investors (including Damian Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley), purchased High Times for a reported $42 million. In January of that year, High Times HQ moved from New York to Los Angeles because California was the “cannabis capital of the country,” according to CRO Matt Stang.
As of June 2018, High Times’ monthly print magazine had 250,000 subscribers – about half of its peak figure – although the emergence of its website is obviously a major factor. Although its annual revenue stream was an estimated $20 million, the organization faced a debt of $11.5 million due by August 2019, although it is permitted to extend the deadline to August 2020 if it sees fit.
The CEO of High Times Holding Corp., Adam Levin, believes the magazine will return to profitability in 2018 as it aims to add new lines of business. For instance, High Times purchased Green Rush Daily, a marijuana news website, in April 2018 as a means of increasing its online audience. The High Times brand name is now licensed on everything from rolling papers to glass water pipes.
Levin says that the company is hoping to have its stock listed on the Nasdaq by the end of 2018. Successful implementation of this strategy would go a long way towards paying off its outstanding debt, as millions of dollars in cash will be raised through the stock’s initial public offering. Today, High Times faces stiff competition, as sites such as Herb and Civilized present a clear and present threat to the magazine’s online presence.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the “Original Marijuana Magazine.” Will its history ensure it has a bright future, or will it be sunk (as so many businesses have) by the new kids on the block?
Whatever happens, Tom Forcade will not see it happen, just as he never saw how popular his creation became. In 1978, he committed suicide in New York’s Greenwich Village, and rumor has it that his ashes were sprinkled into joints and smoked by his staff on top of the World Trade Center.