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High and mighty (continued)

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High Times magazine

The one, the only, High Times magazine’s online home.

Cannabis Cup

High Times’ annual marijuana harvest competition that happens in Amsterdam every November. Seventeen years and counting, the herb connoisseur’s event is still run by former editor Steve Hager.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

NORML’s official Web site.

Recommended books on High Times

A historical anthology of the marijuana magazine’s best reportage from the last 30 years, the High Times Reader (Nation Books) includes contributions from the likes of Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs, Debbie Harry, Joey Ramone, Terry Southern, and Ron Rosenbaum, plus interviews with Bob Marley, Hunter S. Thompson, Abbie Hoffman, Peter Tosh, and Norman Mailer.

Chris Simunek’s Paradise Burning (St. Martin’s Griffin) is a first-person account of his time as a High Times reporter. During Simunek’s many traveling excursions, he heads to Jamaica in search of the "real Bob Marley"; ’shrooms at the annual hippified Rainbow Gathering festival; does crank at South Dakota’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally; and gets baked for a handful of Potsmokers’ Anonymous meetings.

THERE ARE three kinds of celebrity covers at High Times: the People-style celebrity portrait; the celebrity posing with pot; and the celebrity actually smoking pot. "We can get rappers to do that," says Cusick matter-of-factly.

But it wasn’t always that way. The watershed celebrity moment came in 1992, when the Black Crowes and Cypress Hill posed for a cover. Before that, the magazine had hyped celebrities only sporadically — Andy Warhol, Bob Marley, Hunter Thompson. But they were already countercultural icons, so they weren’t cast as pot smokers "coming out." It wasn’t until the Black Crowes appeared that posing on the cover of High Times — especially holding or smoking herb — became a kind of pro-pot gesture. Since then, High Times has featured the likes of Tenacious D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass, Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ali G, and Method Man.

"We get hip-hop stars, metal-style-type artists, and people who’re somewhat extreme in their approach to their art," says Bloom. "They’re people who won’t care about the ramifications of being on the cover of HT. They’ll take it and roll with it and accept the responsibility that comes with being a poster person for pot, however long that lasts — for one month, a year, or longer." For example, actress/eco-activist Daryl Hannah granted an interview for the April 2005 issue of High Times, and even though she isn’t on the cover, she speaks favorably about grass and psychedelics. "Things like mushrooms, peyote, hallucinogens, marijuana shouldn’t be illegal," Hannah is quoted saying. "They can actually be quite educational and result in epiphanies." After the magazine hit the stands, her statements ended up as fodder for Jay Leno jokes.

Obviously, there are many more famous burners than the ones who go public with their indulgence. "A lot of celebrities tend to stay in closets, just like the average smoker," says Bloom. "We have our wish list of people we’d want on the cover, and we knock on a lot of doors and see. We knock on Dave Matthews’s door all the time. We had Jack Black on the cover with Tenacious D, but we’d like one solo with him. We’re interested in Owen Wilson, we’d like to knock on Snoop Dogg’s door again, Willie Nelson to cater to our older crowd. Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Montel Williams — those people are sort of few and far between."

Two doors down from Bloom, Cusick is in his office, a confusion of dog-eared stacks, crumpled scraps of paper, and upturned books. A visitor with rectangular specs and a hooded sweatshirt embroidered with the name of his former company, Seedless, stops by; Cusick exalts him as a former "bong baron" who got shut down during Operation Pipe Dreams.

Cusick calls people like him "heroes," the "Rhett Butlers of our time." He sees the Department of Justice’s assault on glassware manufacturers and bong impresarios as another bomb in an ongoing barrage, a stoner-versus-state clash that forces his publication to serve as a kind of drug-war soldier’s manual. "We’re more like Stars & Stripes magazine than Vanity Fair," Cusick says. "We’re in a time of war, this is a war journal, and we should have our war face on. We should understand our readership, understand that their rights are being taken away, they’re going to jail, their families are being destroyed. It’s easy to forget all that stuff."

Another of Cusick’s heroes is the inventor of the Whizzinator, a prosthetic penis on a belt that excretes synthetic urine for drug tests. There’s a full-page ad for the equipment in High Times, a crotch shot with a marijuana leaf superimposed over the fake phallus. "Someone once said, ‘That’s vulgar.’ No, no, no!" insists Cusick. "High-school students getting drug-tested — that’s vulgar! The Whizzinator? Now that’s sublime!"

At least once a week, Cusick’s phone rings at 4:20 p.m. (long a universal time to light up a joint). On the other end of the line he’ll hear giggling along with the unmistakable sound of a bubbling bong. One regular reader has sent Cusick dozens of e-mails about a bud he swears looks like Jesus. "I was like, ‘Can you send me a picture?’ " recalls Cusick. "The guy e-mails me back right away and says, ‘Sure, I have 578 of them.’ " He also sees a never-ending stream of photos of half-nude women with dope leaves obscuring their private parts. "It’s as if we’ve solicited them, but we haven’t," Cusick says. "Somehow, organically, the idea springs up. ‘There’s my girlfriend, there’re my buds — the two things I care most about in the world. Let me send them to High Times.’ "

Cusick is the first to admit that the constant sex-and-pot mail he receives probably stems from the fact that the magazine’s readership is predominantly male. "It’s an outlaw culture, and more men tend to be outlaws than women," Cusick reasons — a theory consistent with the magazine’s original intent to be the Playboy of pot culture.

Indeed, after its brief stint as a slick, celebrity-driven version of the Nation, High Times is back to its roots. And with circulation on the increase, it’s rolling out the brand-name products: T-shirts, calendars, trucker caps marked OFFICIAL HIGH TIMES TASTE TESTER. Bloom says they’re even looking into putting out a High Times video game.

But High Times’ most important goal extends far beyond brands and bottom lines. "It’d be so great to see marijuana legalized someday and know that we played some part in it," says Bloom. "I’d love to see that day."

Camille Dodero can be reached at cdodero[a]phx.com

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