Media: Still hazy after all these years

High Times magazine is 25 years old this month and still selling 250,000 copies. Not bad for a bunch of dope-smoking hippies.

It may seem a little unfair to base one's initial impressions of a magazine on its adverts - but in the case of High Times, the world's leading journal for cannabis smokers, it's almost impossible not to. In fact, its key source of ad revenue provides a neat illustration of the social fault-line on which High Times thrives.

With mandatory drug-testing increasingly becoming the American norm, its pages are dominated by notices for beat-the-tester inventions. Some push products that look like health tonics ("Just shake and drink!" says the blurb for Test Pure, "works in one hour!"). Others offer home-use contraptions that look like chemistry sets. The most eye-opening, however, extols the worth of the Whizzinator - "An easy to use urinating device with a very realistic prosthetic penis." As if to prove that dope-smoking is one of the few American habits that transcends race divides, the device is available in white, tan, brown and black.

High Times celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. It was founded in 1974 by Tom Focade, a high-ranking US hippy (indeed, the magazine's origins are betrayed by its strap-line: "Celebrating the counterculture"). Ever since, High Times has combined the celebration of marijuana with a crusading zeal that belies the idea that "stoner" culture is a morass of apathy and indifference. Some might think that it's a miracle it appears at all; that it manages to do so 12 times a year and sound a positively righteous voice is admirable indeed.

Steve Bloom is one of High Times' three senior editors: 45 years old, endowed with a surprisingly straight-laced vocabulary, and particularly fond of "fruit-flavoured skunk weeds".

"We're a journal of advocacy," he says. "Other magazines surf the latest trends, or hang everything they do around celebrities - but we have a serious point to make. We think all drugs should be made legal, and we want to light a fire under the way people think and push the agenda forward. That's what High Times is based on." Consequently, its news section contains a monthly bulletin called The War Abroad, stuffed with tales of unfair imprisonment and police heavy-handedness. And High Times' leader comment pulsates with moralism - in the 25th anniversary edition, it goes for the ethical jugular with the tale of a wheelchair-bound Florida man facing up to 10 years in the "can" for the manufacture and possession of marijuana.

Inevitably, though, the magazine tends to tumble into the strange kind of anal-retentiveness that is dope culture's hallmark. Many of its pages look like they've been ripped from a gardening magazine: page upon page is given over to pictures of the "herb" in its cultivation stage, and captioned in a style akin to Homes and Gardens: "These plants had a nasty snail infestation," reads one caption in the 25th birthday special. Indeed, the whole magazine seems to operate on the understanding that the weed is the star - High Times' 2000 calendar features 12 portraits of unbelievably lush dope plants. "Initially," says Bloom, "the magazine kind of took its lead from Playboy, and I think that's still the case today. It's very image-driven, and there are pictorials and centrefolds, but it's about the plant. We get the pot when it's in pristine condition, right as it's being harvested, and the photos we get are very dramatic."

However, the notion of the plant being the star hardly accounts for High Times' circulation figures (at the last count, it averaged around 250,000 per issue).

For all his distaste for celebrity-dominated publishing, Bloom admits that a lot of his time is spent star-chasing, and the results are one of High Times' key selling-points: celebrities posing with the sacraments of dope-smoking, and happily talking about their habits. "Musicians are always the happiest to do it, bless their little stoner hearts," Bloom explains. "They're rock stars, so being in High Times comes with the territory. They don't care that their mom might see it and throw a fit. But we still have to negotiate. A good example is the cover we did with Ozzy Osbourne. His people contacted me, and I said, `Will Ozzy do a High Times-type cover?' Because it means posing with buds, or smoking a joint. They got back to me and said, `Ozzy will do the cover with buds - but he won't smoke it.' We worked it out. We've been trying to get Paul McCartney in the magazine for years. We know he's a supporter, we love Paul - but no matter how much pot he's smoked during his life, it's still a big leap for him. Someone like Paul would bring so much credibility to this issue, and what we do in High Times. With the new album that's just come out, and after Paul's mourning for Linda, we've gone back, and started to negotiate again. I'm optimistic about it happening sooner or later."

Leafing through the magazine, and wowing over its occasional star-based articles - a recent picture spread featured British singer Jay Kay lounging in a bed of buds - it's clear that a great deal of its appeal comes from the illegality of its subject matter. Indeed, there's little doubt that its readership sets a lot of store by the fact that it's a classic "badge" title - by simply purchasing it, you ally yourself with the low-rent non- conformity that dope smoking still represents.

All of which begs one crucial question: if cannabis were decriminalised, would the High Times party be over? "Not at all," Bloom retorts. "I actually think we'd double or triple our size. All the companies that were very afraid to advertise would jump on our bandwagon; we'd start getting the beer and clothes and car ads we don't have right now.

"There's a really successful magazine in the US called Cigar Aficionado. I look at it and think, `Look how thick this magazine is, look at all the ads, look at all the celebrities on the cover - and it's just about cigars.' Take it from me, cigars are nowhere near as good for you as pot. So if pot was legal, why wouldn't celebrities be on the cover of our magazine smoking a big fattie?"

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee