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On a cold Saturday last March, dozens of young men in sweatshirts and graphic tees came to Salem, Massachusetts, with wads of cash to see the first solo exhibition by Bob Snodgrass. The 73-year-old Snodgrass, who arrived wearing his signature tie-dye fisherman’s hat and lavender Lennon sunglasses, is widely considered the godfather of glass pipes and a delegate from a bygone era of stoner culture: a time of sharing joints, eating homemade pot brownies — and reading High Times magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For decades, the High Times office in New York was, well, exactly how you imagined the High Times office would be. “The art director would do lines of coke in the art room, and people would be smoking in every corner… Talk about fog,” Steve Hager, a longtime editor, told the Nation in 2013. After Tom Forçade, the magazine’s founder, died in 1978, legend has it mourners went up to the World Trade Center roof and smoked a joint rolled with his ashes.

Left: High Times Editor in Chief Mike Gianakos. Photography: Chris Maggio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early 2019, a New York City law firm hosted the first Cannabis Media Summit at its midtown offices. Reporters, public relations reps, and editors from the country’s top weed magazines, including High Times, gathered to talk shop. According to a New Yorker article, during one panel, an attendee asked about stigma around the term “cannabis” — a hot topic in the industry. Adrian Farquharson, the chief creative officer at Mary, a lifestyle magazine that serves to reverse negative stereotypes about cannabis, instructed the audience to renounce the words “weed” and “pot.”

For High Times, that might not be so easy. As editor in chief Mike Gianakos put it to me: “We really are about pot and pot smokers.” Verena von Pfetten, co-founder of Gossamer, which aims to appeal to the occasional or casual pot consumer, says that High Times has a well-defined identity. “High Times was an idea of a publication that focused really single-mindedly on the plant and cannabis and the industry,” von Pfetten says. “They are speaking to someone who is very, very well versed and passionate and focused on the plant and the industry itself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many former employees lament the corporatization that’s taken place under Oreva. Since the takeover, the company has grown from 17 employees to 70, with most of those roles added in events and sales. “Everyone felt this impending doom of the corporate monster waiting for High Times, and now that’s what they are,” says a video producer who was laid off in 2017 and requested anonymity to avoid a potential lawsuit. “It’s a shame, because all these people I was with honestly were the authentic cannabis people, the real High Times.”

 

“Has the company tried to get rid of that stoner mentality and have adults at the table? Absolutely,” Levin says. “But this is still a family type of environment.”

 

Though these days, the magazine relies heavily on freelance writers, Gianakos maintains that the magazine is secure and points out that page count hasn’t shrunk. “We’re told it’s an important part of the company. It’s the flagship enterprise that we have, and sort of a calling card that we have,” he says. “At events and sales, the magazine is what people know as High Times first and foremost.” Despite the cuts, Gianakos told me that the magazine is “still operating at the same way we had been.”

Levin insists that High Times magazine will continue to grow alongside the industry, and that cannabis-infused wellness is a part of that growth. “We have a long way to go to produce the content I hope we’re producing, but we also want to stay true to our fans and community that we serve and to that hardcore user, that rabid user,” Levin says. He told me they were also hiring for High Times magazine, though the only editorial openings on the company’s website were for a multimedia editor for Dope and a media internship. When I asked what High Times jobs were open, Levin said, “If we find bright, talented people, we’ll make room for them.”

 

In the meantime, Gianakos says he’s prioritizing diversity in readership, staff, and freelancers to include more women and minorities. Out of the 21 staff listed on the masthead, only four are women, though Gianakos says he works with a number of female freelancers, including two currently working on a CBD story and a profile of Mila Jansen, the Hash Queen of Amsterdam.

 

He isn’t concerned about missing the wellness trend. To Levin, High Times taps into a niche area of the cannabis scene that nascent magazines like Gossamer can’t. “It’s the experience and the knowledge and the expertise that you would get from a publication that has been doing it for years,” he says.

But the magazine is trying to branch out. Recent features have included the best strains to smoke before sex, a chat with Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, and a “Best of Instagram” roundup. Ads still show women in bikinis or vape pens as phallic objects, but Danko, the senior cultivation editor, says their ads now have “less skin” than before.

 

But the magazine isn’t abandoning its core readership. I asked Danko about an interview he and Gianakos conducted with Josh Kesselman, founder of a vegan rolling paper company, in the April issue. Kesselman is photographed wearing a onesie and lighting up a huge blunt on his couch. I wanted to know whether High Times thinks there’s space in today’s weed media landscape for this sort of content, which can feel like a throwback to an earlier, bro-ier era. “We’d be remiss not to shine a light on all that’s going on within the community and the industry,” Danko said. “I don’t think stoner culture is going away.”