Hard times for High Times

In the retail marijuana paraphernalia business, it’s all about pipes, bongs, detox supplies, papers, and lighters. Literature, like marijuana growing books or magazines, such as Cannabis Culture and High Times, are the “window dressing.” They call them first Amendment materials, or reading paraphernalia.
The law says whether or not an object is paraphernalia can be inferred from the set and setting of its sale. So, for most retailers, getting rid of the literature was a no brainier. Headshops could keep their income intact by dumping the books and magazines.

According to one distributor who likes to stay out of the public spotlight, when the government began its anti-paraphernalia crackdown, it was High Times that took the biggest hit. He says pipe and bong advertisers make up more than half of the magazine’s revenue. Within a month after the government’s next crackdown, threequarters of those ads disappeared.

Operations Pipe Dreams and Headhunter threw High Times into its biggest quandary in its 30-year history. Especially, says NORML chief Allen St. Pierre, when Tommy Chong got busted. Chong had a long-time deal with High Times to distribute his line of urinalysis cheating and other pot related products.

The magazine’s staffers panicked as they saw the scope of the Federal investigations.

So the owners made a sudden change and hired Richard Stratton, a successful author who made his name as a writer while incarcerated on drug charges years ago.

That’s why customers at head-Stratton then hired John Buffalo Mailer, the son of author Norman Mailer, as an editor. Stratton says he had an agreement with High Times‘ owners to lead the magazine away from its obvious pot pretensions.

That meant no more cover shots of the sticky-icky, or features on how to roll a blunt, or reviews of the latest dope smoking jam band release. Instead High Times would become a radical activist and readers’ magazine edited by the son of a world famous author, and covering anti-war and other social movements.

According to Stratton, “High Times should diversify” and move away from what he calls “purely advertising medium for paraphernalia.” He calls the High Times he took over a “pamphlet for potaholics,” and he said ultimately, it was the owners who failed to make the new look succeed.

“We weren’t supported,” says Stratton, adding ” and you can’t build a magazine on what could be called illegal.” Stratton complains that as the feds busted the paraphernalia people, the growing number of empty ad pages were being filled with what he calls, “the phony marijuana ads”.

So Stratton said he was busy with a movie and TV production career, and quit working for High Times.

But, distributors also say they noticed a big drop in orders from retailers when High Times shifted from being a marijuana magazine.

John, a distributor from Oregon, says his customers told him what he already knew. The lifestyle format didn’t work and was killing High Times‘ ad base.

He says after the government paraphernalia crackdown, High Times ads were down but still had customers. A year later, the core fans were running, and the few remaining advertisers ? seeing the drop-off in sales ? were getting nervous.

John says that his distribution business saw High Times orders eventually drop by two-thirds. He admits things are getting better. With High Times‘ return to marijuana cover shots and grow information, sales have been rebounding.

St. Pierre says the government came close to killing a “moderately profitable machine,” with High Times. Clearly, he ads, pulling the pot out of High Times “was the single dumbest thing you could do.”

Current editor Steve Bloom says the change was “an attempt to mainstream,” but he notes, “It’s hard to mainstream this magazine.” High Times without pot was like a porno mag without boobs. paraphernalia.