The future of High Times

High Times magazine, the voice of America’s pot culture since 1974, has announced that they will be changing their format, and not covering so much marijuana news. “We’re trying to get away from just being a pot magazine,” said new executive editor John Mailer, in a November 16 interview with the New York Times.
The newest issue, which hits newsstands November 25, is the first under Mailer’s new direction. The cover features no pot references, and there is less pot content inside the magazine than readers would expect. According to the New York Times, the next few issues will be transitional, with the official relaunch issue coming in May 2004.

High Times was founded in 1974 by eccentric pot smuggler and counter-culture philanthropist Tom Forcade. Forcade killed himself in 1978, under circumstances some consider suspicious. The magazine has had several different phases, but has always had a heavy focus on marijuana news and pot-culture. Since 1988, the editor in chief had been Steven Hager.

“With the new High Times we’re using [pot]as a metaphor,” said Mailer. “So it’s not a magazine about pot, it’s a magazine about our civil liberties, and our tag line is ‘Celebrating Freedom.’ Our feeling is it’s patriotic to be in High Times.”

However, it seems as if Mailer might actually lead the magazine in the opposite direction than its current pro-pot stance. He told the New York Times that he will begin running stories opposed to marijuana use, including people who think pot has ruined their lives.

Mailer admitted that he didn’t even know High Times was still in business until he was offered the job. Mailer has never edited a magazine before, and has had only one published article in his resume. However, he is the son of famed writer Norman Mailer, and he has written and starred in a couple of plays which have been performed off-Broadway.

Rumours and speculation

Rumours have been circulating the cannabis industry for months about these impending changes to High Times. Some insiders claim that the format change is being spurred by direct pressure and threats from the DEA. With the February 2003 raids on bong-makers hitting many of their biggest advertisers, the magazine is clearly deciding to target a more mainstream ad base.

“Who knows what’s really going on?” said Dana Larsen, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine, which is based in Vancouver, Canada, but sells most of their copies in the US. “Of course this presents an opportunity for us to reach out to the audience and advertisers that High Times will be abandoning. But even though we have feuded with High Times in the past, I am not happy to see them forsake the pot-culture.”

Larsen added that this could spell trouble for his magazine as well. “If High Times has truly come under pressure from the DEA, then maybe that could happen to us too. We are based in Canada, so we are less easy to target directly, but the DEA could go after the stores and companies that distribute us. If they’re going to go after people selling bongs, then why wouldn’t they be going after the pot magazines?”

Ed Rosenthal, who wrote the “Ask Ed” cultivation advice column for High Times from 1983 to 2000 before switching to Cannabis Culture, continues to pursue legal claims against his former employer.

* New York Times article about High Times: Who’s Smoking Now?
* High Times: