HIGH TIMES has been getting countless requests for interviews lately from the mainstream press, mostly in regards to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, which went into effect Jan. 1st. It’s an interesting turn of events, HIGH TIMES being an “outlaw,” or “counterculture” publication since its inception 40 years ago in 1974. When it comes to marijuana, we are advocates and activists, and have never felt the need to be objective on the subject. HIGH TIMES has always believed that marijuana should be legal, and that those who don’t agree with us are simply wrong. Today we find ourselves in the unique position of watching the world come around to our point of view.
On a recent interview with NPR’s Bob Garfield from the show, “On the Media,” I was asked several questions about HIGH TIMES' place in this era of legal pot. The first was, “Do you still see yourself as an outsider, or are you waking up in the morning to realize, ‘Oh my God, I am just so mainstream?’” I told Bob that HIGH TIMES is still an underground publication that teaches people how to break the law in every single issue, and that “outlaw” is a state of mind -- which is not exactly the truth, but it sounded good at the time. I also told him that a “Mission Accomplished” declaration is premature as far as the pot movement goes, as there are still thousands in jail for non-violent marijuana offenses, and pot is still an illegal, Schedule 1 narcotic in the eyes of the Federal government. Basically, there is still plenty of work to do.
This interview took place right after Ricardo Baca was appointed “Pot Editor” at the Denver Post, and was getting a lot of ribbing in the mainstream media because of it. I was asked about what it feels like when people make fun of the marijuana community. Bob played an excerpt from a College Humor skit, where a supposed HIGH TIMES editor stands up in a meeting and says, “Listen, everybody, circulation is the lowest it has been in years. I need new ideas. I need hardworking columns. I need, like, one of those mini cereals. I need milk, like, 2 percent or 3 percent or 4 percent...” When the clip was finished Bob asked, “Is that funny to you?”
The first half of my answer was to inform Bob that the College Humor folks are actually friends of ours. As to the larger question of people making fun of pot smokers, I said that I could make a case that the pot smoker has been hunted, persecuted, imprisoned and targeted, so it’s not so funny to make fun of us, but we have a sense of humor, and we make fun of ourselves all the time.
All of it got me thinking about this newfound acceptance of marijuana. A CNN poll last week put the percentage of Americans who believe pot should be legal at 55%, with two-thirds of people between the ages of 18 and 34, and 64% of those between 34 and 49 in favor. In 1996, shortly after I was hired at HIGH TIMES, only 26% of Americans thought pot should be legal. For two decades, I’ve been watching this cultural shift, and while I find it exciting, I also remember all the pioneers of the pot movement who did not live long enough to see this moment -- the martyrs who died in the struggle or who are in prison today as a result of it.
I think of my old friends Professor Afghani, who was one of my writers back when I was Cultivation Editor and an outlaw by any definition of the word, or Joe Hart, who had the balls to open a medical dispensary in Key West back in the ‘90’s, and who, despite having AIDS, lived for may years treating himself with pot. If memory serves me correct, Joe’s health declined rapidly after a jail stint where he was cut off from his medicine. Then, of course, there’s Jack Herer, author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes and probably the most beloved pot activist who ever lived. Jack died in 2010, and I am sure he would have had a lot to say about the recent turn of events, had one of these mainstream journalists been able to point a microphone in his direction.
Those are just three guys who were friends of mine who are not here to share this moment. There are hundreds, maybe thousands more marijuana martyrs. Off the top of my head, I remember the story of Gary Shepherd, a Vietnam veteran who grew his own medical marijuana and who was shot to death in front of his son while trying to surrender to Kentucky police after a 7-hour armed standoff. Then there’s Peter McWilliams, author of Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do, the Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society, an activist who suffered from AIDS and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and who credited marijuana for helping him with his nausea. He was arrested, cut off from his medicine, and soon choked to death on his vomit. And what about the guys from Rainbow Farm in Michigan, Tom Crosslin and Rolland “Rollie” Rohm, who hosted several pot festivals, were raided for growing marijuana, and were eventually shot by police snipers when they refused to surrender?
There are so many people -- activists, growers, patients, providers -- who died outlaws and martyrs for this cause. And before you start telling me about all the folks I haven’t mentioned, let me suggest something. I would like everyone who is reading this, who can think of someone who fought for marijuana, but didn’t live long enough to see it legalized, to mention their names and maybe tell their stories in the “comments” section beneath this article as it appears on this site or on Facebook. It doesn’t matter if they are famous, infamous or heretofore unknown. Let’s remember and pay tribute to them. Right here. Right now.