Unlike The Denver Post, High Times is not a new comer to the marijuana game, having covered the beat for 39 years. Bob talks with High Times editor-in-chief Chris Simunek about how the magazine reports on the world of marijuana, and whether pot coverage going mainstream will change High Times.
BOB GARFIELD: The Post might be the first major metro paper to award such a title, but it certainly isn’t the first publication to make a bet on pot coverage. High Times Magazine has been covering pot and advocating legalization for 39 years. Recent pieces have ranged from an interview with former Mexican President Vicente Fox imploring the US government to change tactics in the drug war, to a post about the types of annoying characters you find in the stoner circle. With pot businesses suddenly above ground, the magazine is running counter-to-industry trends by actually adding advertising pages.
Chris Simunek is the editor-in-chief of High Times. Chris, welcome to the show.
CHRIS SIMUNEK: All right, thank you very much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Is High Times approximately the same magazine that it was when I first saw it in college in 1974?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: Things have changed. We went through a long period where we covered other drugs, and then in the eighties we just sort of came around and decided that big flashy cocaine centerfolds are not the way to go. I think our views on marijuana have been the same throughout. We are activists. We are pro-pot. We don’t really feel the need to be objective about the subject. I noticed that Ricardo was saying that he’s never gonna be high at work and he’s never gonna write stoned. That sort of objectivity we don’t feel the need to aspire to.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Are you tuned up right now?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: Oh no, no, I’m not.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. And unlike Ricardo, I guess, you, for most of your history, were kind of an outlaw publication. That is to say, what you were advocating for was illegal in almost every jurisdiction where High Times could be read. 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?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: [LAUGHS] I don’t know. We have certainly been an outlaw publication. To this day, any issue of High Times Magazine that you buy is gonna teach you how to break the law.
BOB GARFIELD: Your original audience was principally baby boomers. Some of them are retirement age now. Have they stayed with you? Is there any AARP in High Times?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: Oh yes. It’s really hard to nail down who our audience is un – unless you come to our events. Then you see them, and they are old and young. They might be Grateful Dead hippie types, they might be a guy with a pierced tongue and Goth metal type, I mean, a lot of guys in baseball caps and triple XL shirts. We try and include something for all of them in every issue and on our website.
BOB GARFIELD: Including fat, bald retirees?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: Especially fat, bald retirees.
BOB GARFIELD: We talked to Ricardo Baca about the giggling that accompanies having the position pot editor. You have been enduring that kind of stuff for your entire career. In fact, let me play you something that we found on college humor at the website. This clip purports to take place at a High Times staff meeting.
MAN: Well 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 serials. I need milk like 2 percent or 3 percent or 4 percent. If they make 4 percent milk, it’s not you take 2, 2 percent and put ‘em together. We need ideas, guys, huh!
MAN: Upside down hair.
MAN: Yes! No, what is – what is upside down hair? I’m talking about feature ideas, stuff we could use and write.
BOB GARFIELD: Is that funny, to you?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: You know, I could probably make a case to say the pot smoker has been hunted, persecuted, imprisoned and targeted - it’s not so funny for you to make fun of us. But, on the other hand, you know, we make fun of ourselves.
BOB GARFIELD: It strikes me that as social movements go High Times has been at it longer than the abortion rights people, agitating first for decriminalization and then legalization of marijuana. Mission accomplished, at least in Colorado. Is your work done?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: It’s far from done. There are so many people doing jail time right now for smoking, growing, distributing. Until those people are out of jail and marijuana is legalized federally, our job is nowhere near done.
BOB GARFIELD: So you’ve said you’re not just declaring victory and retiring to the lake house with your favorite bong. What happens to High Times now?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: We’re expanding right now. As you mentioned, we went up in pages. We just redid our Internet page. And in just a couple of months our Facebook Likes went from 500,000 to a million.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, of course, we fell into the same trap everybody else did and found ourselves being amused with the notion of whether the pot editor should be stokin’ up a doobie at work. And he said, well no, can’t do it because of the employment policies. But I got to guess that at High Times there are high times. Do you ever put out the magazine while under the influence of the very thing that you’re covering?
CHRIS SIMUNEK: Yes, very definitely adamant yes. I’m not saying we go on a bender and do Jäger shots and then put the magazine on press. We care a lot about what we do and we’ve been doing this a long time. You know, it struck me, there’s one quote that I found very interesting and very fitting to these times. It comes to Hunter S. Thompson: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” And I think that’s what you’re seeing right now with the marijuana movement, finally coming from the underground to the aboveground.
BOB GARFIELD: Does that kind of spoil the fun? You don’t get to be an outlaw anymore.
CHRIS SIMUNEK: Well, I think outlaw is a state of mind.
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BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] All right, Chris. Thank you very much.
CHRIS SIMUNEK: You’re welcome. Thank you very much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Chris Simunek is the editor-in-chief of High Times Magazine.