‘High Times’ has always had to walk a fine line because the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana has been and still is illegal by federal law.
The High Times 40th-anniversary party took place at 95 Delancey Street in New York on the next-to-the last Thursday in October. I went because I’ve written for High Times since the early 1980s, under my own name and under an alias, too, including Joe Delicado. HT also published my paperback book, Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War, which might be called gonzo reporting in the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson, though I don’t claim to be anywhere near as good as Thompson.
By coincidence I was in New York at the same time as the party and close by, too; 95 Delancey was a 10-minute walk from the apartment where I was staying and where I’d smoked a pipe or two of New York State weed. To get into the party you had to be on the list.
Everyone who showed up got in line, gave a name, any name, and if the name was on the list, they were allowed in. I was on the list. Mary Jane, or so she called herself, put a check mark next to my name and another woman stamped my right hand so I could go in and out.
I climbed up to the third floor of the DL, a restaurant and lounge, and looked for HT people that I might recognize. There were a few, including Michael and Eleanore Kennedy — known as the Kennedy’s — who own High Times, Mary McEvoy, the publisher who doesn’t seem to smoke weed, and Audrey, an African-American who answers the phones at the office, keeps things running and does almost everything she’s asked to do. She’s part of the heart and soul of HT.
There was also Larry Sloman, better known as Ratso, a counterculture journalist, who wrote Reefer Madness, a history of marijuana, Steal This Dream, a biography of Abbie Hoffman, and who collaborated with Howard Stern on Stern’s two books, Private Parts and Miss America. I hadn’t seen Ratso in 40 years and didn’t recognize him. But we caught up and compared notes and it felt like old home week.
There were plenty of young people, too, including Audrey who I recognized instantly. Audrey travels with the High Times team several times a year and attends the Cannabis Cups that are held around the country. They’re a big money maker. Venders rent space from HT to sell almost anything and everything connected with the cultivation and the consumption of weed.
People who attend the Cannabis Cups also pay to get in. They buy all sorts of HT stuff including old copies of the magazine, which are now collector’s items. There’s live music, booths, food, and weed to smoke and sample. HT Cannabis Cups are part trade fairs, part circuses. I’ve been to several. I sell copies of Marijuanaland and schmooze, and I check out the scene, too.
Not surprisingly, I was recognized by a handful of readers and by a few California marijuana growers who had come all the way from the remote hills and valleys of Mendocino County to attend the event. They would not have missed it for all the riches in the world. They had grown up and come of age with High Times. They learned cultivation tips in the pages of the magazine and they enjoyed the color photos of luscious buds.
Naturally we smoked. Why else would you go to a HT party? Yes, there was free booze and guests were drinking vodka, gin, whiskey, and wine. I had a diet coke and smoked a few joints with a grower who knew my book and who handed me his business card. It read, “Noel Manners: Beyond Organic, Biodynamic, Carbon Neutral.” On paper he was doing all the right things for the environment, though I’ve learned from experience not to believe anything that growers tell me. I have to see their gardens to believe them.
It is illegal in New York to smoke indoors: illegal to smoke tobacco and to smoke weed. So the big beefy bouncers in black suits wandered around the crowded smoke-filled room telling people, “There’s no smoking allowed.” I saw no one stop smoking, but I did see people smoke more discreetly after being warned. They concealed their joints and did their best not to be ostentatious.
It was a relief not to be in the midst of paranoia. Yes, we have come a long way in 40 years.
High Times has, from the beginning, had to walk a fine line because the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana has been and still is illegal by federal law. The passage of medical marijuana has made a difference in nearly two-dozen states, but all over the country, Americans are still arrested and sent to jail for possession of marijuana.
Writing about marijuana is a different story; it’s protected by the First Amendment, though even there it’s a big tricky. HT provides information to readers who want to grow marijuana, but it doesn’t specifically ask them or urge them to break the law. It’s a kind of Catch-22 situation. It’s a bit Kafkaesque and Orwellian, too.
One December at a High Times Christmas Party with good food and drink I announced to one and all that I’d had an excellent season and a terrific harvest. Everyone looked at me as though I was insane. One wasn’t supposed to announce that one was a grower.
I want to say congratulations to High Times. Thanks for surviving all these years. It hasn’t been easy, not with reefer madness operating in the White House, at the DEA, and in police departments all around the country. HT hasn’t been perfect, but it has helped to normalize the world of marijuana.
It has played a role in the legalization and the decriminalization of marijuana and over the past 40 years it has helped to educate millions and millions of Americans about marijuana. It has dispelled many of the myths that the government has spread. At the High Times party, nobody looked like the cliché of the stoner or the druggie. Well, maybe there was someone. Maybe it was I. Somebody had to play the part.
Read more of Jonah Raskin’s writing on The Rag Blog.
[Jonah Raskin is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War, and a contributing editor to The Rag Blog.]