The November 2014 High Times cover (via High Times)

The big 4-0 for High Times: celebrating milestone

It’s hard to believe that High Times magazine turns 40 this year. From the fantastical story of its beginnings — via drug smuggler Gary Goodson, a.k.a. Tom Forcade — to the magazine’s modern, mid-legalization renaissance, High Times is the grandfather of marijuana activism-rooted journalism.

We spoke with High Times editor-in-chief Chris Simunek, who is based in New York, about his magazine’s milestone, which will hit newsstands on Sept. 1.

Cannabist: So this is the November issue — is that when High Times officially turns 40?

Simunek: The actual anniversary of the first issue was in June, I think. We’re having this in November because we wanted to keep doing stuff that builds up to it. If we put the issue out in June, and this is a publishing thing, it’s not a great-selling month for us because people have other stuff to do in the summer and we’d be missing out on half a year of anniversary promotion. We have the issue coming out in September. Someone’s putting out a coffee table book in October. And we’re having our 40th anniversary party on Oct. 16 in New York.

High Times: The inside scoop on the magazine's 40th anniversary issue
High Times founder Tom Forcade, in 1970. (Henry Griffin, Associated Press file)

Cannabist: And there are stories in this anniversary issue that help tell the story of High Times’ hard-to-believe beginnings?

Simunek: At the time we were conceiving this issue, I was in discussions with two people who were around High Times from the start and friends of Tom Forcade. Rex Weiner is on the masthead of the first issue and worked for High Times for several years. He pitched me the idea on how they put the first issue together, from shooting the cover to getting distribution to conceiving the table of contents and sitting around some radical, political guy’s apartment smoking joint after joint and hitting nitrous and thinking about what they wanted to cover. Then there’s John Holmstrom, the founder of Punk Magazine. Tom Forcade loved punk and was a fan of the MC5, and he saw that rock ‘n’ roll had excellent potential for political change and to carry a real message and not just be “I love you, baby, blah blah blah.” When the Sex Pistols were on tour he found out about a guy who wanted to film a movie about the tour, and John Holmstrom went along on this crazy adventure with Tom Forcade to film the Sex Pistols — without the band’s permission. It was a constant battle with the Sex Pistols’ tour manager, and at this point Tom Forcade was less than a year from committing suicide, so he was pretty manic depressive — upbeat in some moments, down in others, but focused on getting this movie about the Sex Pistols made and released. And I’m still trying to get the movie about the Sex Pistols out.

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Cannabist: So they filmed an entire move without the band’s permission?

Simunek: Yeah. I’m talking with some people, and the problem then was he never had the rights to the songs. It had a brief theatrical release and a life thereafter on bootleg video cassettes. I’m still working on it.

Cannabist: And Forcade killed himself soon after?

Simunek: He killed himself in November 1978. The tour was that summer before.

Cannabist: You’re running the magazine Tom started, and now you’re trying to get Tom’s movie released — decades after he died. Even though you never met him, do you feel oddly connected to him?

Simunek: We all kind of live in Tom’s shadow here. He’s a guy we all admire. He’s the type of person you don’t meet anymore, a guy who’s willing to break the law and use his ill-gotten gains toward trying to change the world. As opposed to this guy I saw today with a T-shirt that said, “Money, hos, cars and clothes.” That’s the prevailing attitude today. Tom had money, but he was an outlaw and then took all this money and made this magazine and funded movies and did political actions.

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Cannabist: And now you’re the editor-in-chief of that magazine.

Simunek: Yeah. When I was a kid, I was into underground music, and I grew up in an underground scene, and it’s natural that I gravitated toward an underground magazine. I guess that’s the way I see it. Now we have one foot above ground, which is a delicate balancing act. Legalization in many ways happened faster than we expected. If you told me five years ago that full-on recreational marijuana was going to be legal in Colorado, I woulda said, “Medical maybe — I dunno.” But here it is. And if you told me 15 years ago that any of it would be legal I woulda thought you were crazy.

Cannabist: So tell us about the cover.

Simunek: It has gold and red foil and no cover lines, aside from the anniversary issue bit. It has a nice, big pot leaf. And we have a beautiful pot leaf poster that folds out four times the size of the magazine.

Cannabist: Is it bigger than an average High Times?

Simunek: It’s perfect bound, on heavier paper, so in that sense it’s larger. Not sure about the page count — maybe it’s a bit longer.

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Cannabist: And what else?

Simunek: For anyone who used to read High Times in the old days we have the return of Dope Rider, a cartoon that has a skeleton that traveled between time, back and forth, in this mystical marijuana-filled universe. I don’t think he’s been in High Times for 25 years, but we found the original artist, Paul Kirchner, and had him revive it for the 40th issue.

Cannabist: So it’s a one-time appearance for the Dope Rider?

Simunek: Nah, we all liked it so much that we’re going to start giving it a full page starting in 2015.

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