Thirty-five years and still growing! Not bad for a magazine started by a radical political activist who funded his venture (and his lifestyle) by smuggling marijuana – tons and tons of it, much of which he flew into the country himself in his own plane.
Tom Forçade, whose real name was Kenneth Gary Goodson, was a lefty political activist with the Youth International Party (a.k.a. the Yippies) who spent much of the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami – the one that nominated George McGovern for president – sitting in what he designated as the People’s Pot Tree, selling bags of marijuana to anyone willing to approach from below with a fistful of cash. I know this for a fact, as this is how I first met Tom – and I’m happy to report that the pot was first-rate.
A couple of years later, I was delighted to be back in touch with him, this time when he announced that he was starting a new magazine for marijuana smokers. By then, I was aware of Tom’s work with the Underground Press Syndicate – his attempt to network together the nation’s many underground or free papers. He wanted to make sure the counterculture was educated in the political philosophy of the left, and High Times was in large part inspired by the difficulties Tom encountered getting his message out through the traditional media. Fuck the Washington Post and the New York Times; Tom decided that he would simply start his own magazine to reach the masses – or at least the masses’ leftmost fringe.
One of my favorite Tom Forçade stories involves an occasion in the early ’70s when we were short of money at NORML. I called Tom in New York to ask if he was in a position to make a significant contribution. He invited me to meet him at his apartment in New York, where I found him baby-sitting several hundred pounds of marijuana, still in bales. He was clearly in the process of getting rid of his latest load! We stood in the few square feet at the front of the room that remained free and discussed NORML’s latest work. Then Tom handed me a paper bag with $10,000 in it.
We didn’t discuss the 800-pound elephant in the room – that mountain of marijuana. I tried to ignore it and to put out of my mind what might happen to me personally, and to NORML institutionally, should the authorities happen to raid Tom at just that moment. Fortunately, there were no surprises – the money made it back safely to DC, and Tom and I lived to work another day.
There was another time when I called Tom asking for cash and he readily agreed – but this time he advised me that someone would be leaving a bag of money outside NORML’s Washington office on the weekend, and all he asked was that I publicly release the note that would be attached to the gift. Like clockwork, the following Sunday morning I heard the NORML doorbell ring (I lived in a room above the office) and found a black backpack on the doorstep with $5,000 in cash inside. (You can read the note below).
As promised, I walked back into the NORML office and dutifully called the Associated Press bureau. The following morning, we were delighted to see a picture and story running in papers all across America, including the Washington Post – although, oddly, not a single journalist called to ask if I might know a little bit more about this mysterious confederation of dealers who had left the money. It was a more innocent time in America, of course; I doubt whether anyone would stay out of jail if they accepted funding from smugglers today. (As for my little indiscretion, the statute of limitations has run out, I am delighted to say.)
Tom, who suffered from depression at times, eventually killed himself in 1977. Afterwards, all of his friends gathered at the top of the World Trade Center, where we smoked some of his ashes in a couple of joints and said our goodbyes. HIGH TIMES and NORML have always maintained the close relationship that Tom and I forged throughout the years, remaining political allies and ideological soulmates.
So happy 35th birthday, HighTimes! And may we soon celebrate the legalization of marijuana that Tom Forçade so ably pursued during the earliest years of this magazine. We at NORML are proud to be your allies in this noble struggle.
R. Keith Stroup, Esq., is the founder and legal counsel of NORML, www.norml.org. This column is largely drawn from his forthcoming book, The High Road: A Cultural History of Marijuana in America, due out from Simon & Schuster this autumn.