High Times, the venerable marijuana magazine found in headshops and behind cardboard at your favorite corner liquor store, turned 40 recently.
In celebration, the magazine released a coffee table book, which is generously reviewed in the New York Times by Dwight Garner. It sounds like a good read, chronicling the magazine's wild early days, the suicide of "crusading journalist" and founder Tom Forçade at 33, and the magazine's commercial bumps on its road to middle age. It's easy to forget that High Times has boasted genuine journalism, art and literature during its tenure.
According to the NYT, the greatest tonal shift over the 40 years of High Times' existence was away from "garish travel stories to a cheerful Home-Depot-like-do-it-yourself ethos." That is, no doubt, thanks to the semi-legalized status of marijuana that began to form around the nation in the early 1990s.
As decriminalization began to turn people away from dealers and into the hardware stores, those same green thumbs began to turn to glossy Sunset-like magazines and books with growing tips. Think Good Housekeeping with bud-porn instead of cupcake recipes.
At the same time, the anonymous nature of the World Wide Web began to give the same entrepreneurial types fora to share the vast body of anecdotal knowledge and lore surrounding marijuana cultivation, genetics, culture and community. High Times no doubt suffered from the print media circulation dip brought about with the rapid rise of Internet media.
While mainstream journalism has largely been able to adapt to an e-reader's world, marijuana writers have always had to work on the edge of legitimacy, thanks to the nation's war on drugs.
High Times was aware of that, writing bravely on the race and class implications of the war on marijuana, according to Garner in his review. In it, Garner says, "the war on drugs was always really a war on marijuana ... waged mostly on hippies and slackers and the underprivileged."
"Criminals dealing drugs like heroin and cocaine," Garner quotes from the book, "would actually shoot back."
That is, of course, a somewhat rosy take on marijuana. As with any illicit substance, there's sometimes blood on pot. Legalization is improving the situation, but the finger pointing at other drugs is disingenuous — after all, heroin and cocaine have potentially more significant race and class quagmires, similar dangers related to prohibition, and the same misguided policies by the governments that treat drug use as a criminal activity rather than a healthcare issue.
But I digress. Garner doesn't get his hands on High Times' circulation numbers, so it's impossible to say how the magazine has weathered the Internet and looming legalization.
However, a Journal reader recently returned from Denver was kind enough to drop off a fat, glossy, 150-page free tourism magazine. At first glance, CULTURE magazine is just your average, well, hip culture magazine. The cover features celebrity chef Tom Colicchio; the table of contents boasts recipes, a calendar of Colorado events, video game reviews, political reporting and music interviews. But flip to any page — that's hardly an exaggeration, any page — and boom: marijuana ad.
Yes, CULTURE is "The #1 Cannabis Lifestyle Magazine," with Nor- and SoCal, Washington, Colorado, San Diego, Arizona, Oregon, Michigan and national editions. And it's booming. Colorado's October edition has (at quick count) 86 full-page color ads ranging from vape pens to marijuana strains, from pot candy to trade shows. At nearly $1,000 per ad, it's apparent there's some future in cannabis magazines.
CULTURE, however, reads like a pot-centric Rolling Stone. It doesn't have the subversive edge of the once-counter-culture High Times. Marijuana has gone mainstream. You don't have to peer through the haze: Cannabis-themed Colorado golf-getaway advertisements are the canary in the cultural coalmine.