By Steve Bloom

To most people, Rick Cusick is the associate publisher of High Times, and the magazine's longtime former ad director. (He was also co-editor with Dave Bienenstock and myself for 17 issues in 2005 and 2006.) But to Marijuana Policy Project and NORML supporters, Cusick may best be known as the hardest-working auctioneer in the drug-policy business.

At MPP's last two awards shows in New York (earlier this month) and Los Angeles (last year), he served as the events' mouth du jour. Midway during both programs, Cusick took to the stage, where he preceded to coax big bucks out of attendees, who'd already paid handsomely to be there in the first place.

"Rick did such a fantastic job at our Los Angeles awards gala in 2005 that we asked him to join us again in New York for MPP's 2006 awards gala on June 12," explains Stephanie Vogel, MPP's Director of Grants and Outreach, and the main coordinator of both events.

"He has a unique combination of enthusiasm for the cause and a knack for knowing what qualities of our auction items really appeal to our guests. With Rick calling the auction, MPP - known for its ultra-professional approach - can let its hair down, so to speak, while our pony-tailed auctioneer has some fun with the crowd."

Among the items the fast-talking Cusick has auctioned off are original Doonesbury and Alex Grey artwork; a Weeds script signed by the cast, writers and producers; trips to Hawaii and a retreat center near Santa Barbara; a medical-marijuana canister from federal patient Irv Rosenfeld; and handmade designer clothing from Sanni Diesner Atelier. Vogel says Cusick's well-timed pitches have earned more than $15,000 for the MPP Foundation.

Cusick has also auctioned at the last two NORML conferences in San Franciso. One of the highly-sought items was a Volcano Vaporizer, which went for $500. He's helped raise $12,000 for NORML. You can hear Cusick on stage at the Boston Freedom Rally and Seattle Hempfest, where he's been the main MC as well.

Anyone who knows him - such as High Times staffers, friends and his darling daughter Dylan - can attest to Cusick's enduring gift of gab. This has translated into raising money for a worthy cause, something more people should do.

PHOTO BY DANNY DANKO