Smoke It Up: High Times Magazine

In 1937 reefer madness culminated with the outlawing of cannabis. In 1968 the hippie movement peeked with the summer of love. In 1974 the counter-culture was given a voice: High Times.For 22 years and 250 issues High Times magazine has been chronicling marijuana, the culture around it and the laws that ban it. The New York-based magazine has been waging it's own media campaign about the benefits of cannabis, trying to overthrow the dominating public perception.But it's become a constant struggle. The media claims it's evil. Penalties have gotten stiffer. The government is cracking down. For Steve Hagar, editor-in-chief, it means the fight goes on."Marijuana isn't destroying people's lives," Hagar says. "But why do people believe that this plant comes from Satan? The media has gone with reefer madness too much and hasn't ever looked at the other side of the story. We try to be a national magazine for the counter-culture and hopefully shed some truth on the subject."High Times isn't just a bunch of people sitting around talking about the best bud in the market. It has a mission. It pushes for the reform of marijuana laws. The ultimate goal: legalizing pot. But since that goal is still out of reach, Hagar is focused on smaller battles. His favorite: legalizing marijuana for medicinal uses, something he believes is vital to millions of people in this country."This plant is good for more diseases than anything else in the world. AIDS. Glaucoma. This list goes on and on. Millions of people need this and don't even know about it."Hagar also regularly focuses on the industrial values of hemp. You can make clothes, paper and wax out of it. You can run your car off the oil produced from it. And all this without pesticides. Hagar believes there are too many benefits to ignore."The list of things you can make out of this is amazing. Over 20,000 products were being made from hemp before it was made illegal. The commercial and industrial uses of this plant are being ignored."With controversial stances like this it's hard to make friends, especially in the halls of justice. The topic alone stirs controversy. Most law enforcement agencies would like to see High Times shut down. But Hagar says that as long as a half million people are sent to jail annually for marijuana procession, High Times will exist."Over 500,000 people are being arrested each year for this," Hagar says. "That's the reason our justice system is clogging. The government is trying to use marijuana as a scapegoat for the country's ills."But High Times is more than pot propaganda. It's also become a music industry standard. For years it was considered almost a Deadhead fanzine. Most of the music they covered came out during the Nixon era. Four years ago, the staff decided they wanted more. They put rappers Cypress Hill, one of hip-hop's leading pot activists, on the cover. It's been expanding since."We wanted a broader audience than the 18 to 25 year-old stoner guy," says Steve Bloom, High Times' music editor. "We wanted to reach people. So now as long as you get high or want to get high it doesn't matter what music you play."That philosophy has made High Times one of the most comprehensive music mags on the rack, covering everything from rap to reggae. They even put their name behind the NORML benefit album "Hempilation," gathering artists from Blues Traveler to 311 to contribute tracks.High Times is going beyond the normal band bios and interviews. In last month's issue, Bloom detailed his investigation into the death of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. From reports on his body -- Cobain was found with three times the lethal dose of heroin in his system, injected into both arms -- to interviewing singer El Duce, who claims to have been hired to kill Cobain. What he discovered is a possible conspiracy that points the finger at Cobain's widow, Courtney Love."I'm not supposed to call this a conspiracy, but I will," Bloom says. "We tapped into it, whether it's true or not. But it's out there. I think anything is possible."Since then High Times has been threatened with lawsuits from the Love camp, and her lawyers have pressured other magazines away from the story. But Bloom still stands by the piece."They're doing a good job of clamping down on this story. If somebody out there knows more, they're being very quiet. It's hard to know for sure -- to get all the facts straight. But it was too carefully plotted."

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