In 1969, the mysterious Tom Forçade insinuated himself into the top echelons of countercultural politics by taking control of the Underground Press Syndicate, a coalition of anti-establishment newspapers across the country. Wiry and manic, Forcade wore a black hat and refused to have his face photographed. Weathering government surveillance and harassment, the First Amendment warrior embarked on a landmark court battle to obtain press credentials for the Nixon White House. But simultaneously, his audacious exploits of the early 1970s—pieing Congressional panelists, stealing presidential portraits, and picking fights with other activists—led to accusations that he was an agent provocateur working for the federal government. His contrarian nature created conflict on all sides: After feuding with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the media superstars of the left-wing Yippies, Forcade formed his own radical prankster group, which he called the Zippies. The Secret Service and FBI investigated him for a plot to assassinate Richard Nixon, and he was indicted on firebombing charges stemming from an arrest at the 1972 Republican National Convention. By 1973, he had gotten into the marijuana business with a Florida real-estate mogul who used a fleet of Lockheed Lodestars to move weight, and started an underground proto-dispensary in New York City. 

What tied everything together was Forcade’s commitment to the possibility of marijuana as a liberating force. “Grass breaks down your social conditioning,” he  said. “Your mind loosens up and you start seeing the cracks in the system.” As the era of protest faded and the dark shadows of Watergate spread, Forçade increasingly hoped that pot might be the path to cultural and economic revolution. His vehicle for this mission would be the magazine ‘High Times,’ which he founded in 1974. Here’s how he made it happen. 

WHEN REPRESENTATIVES OF forty-five independent papers gathered for their annual conference in Colorado in the summer of 1973, they moved to change the name from the Underground Press Syndicate. Calling it the Alternative Press Syndicate was, in part, a reflection of the rise of newer, more professional, and locally focused weeklies. Only a few years earlier, editors patrolled the perimeter of such gatherings with loaded guns, relayed the cracked codes of police radio calls with walkie-talkies. Now, during a weekend that kicked off with entertainment from a western swing band and a weed-and-wine tasting, they met to plot for fiscal survival, wondering if they should make public stock sale offerings or try to attract rich benefactors. 

 “You’re going to have to identify some sort of base that the straight press can’t co-opt, Tom Forcade told the assembled editors. “Either sex, drugs, or politics.”

Forcade would choose drugs. “The ‘movement’ was over,” he later explained, “and I needed something to keep from killing myself out of boredom.”

The first time Ronnie Volvox of the Alternative Press Syndicate realized that Tom Forcade was involved in the marijuana trade was immediately following the conference, which they’d attended together. Volvox stopped in California for a few days, and when he returned to New York, he got a call from Mexico.

“Tom had crashed an airplane and had been in jail. I think he’d bought his way out at that point. I don’t know whether he was calling to tell us he was okay, or to tell us where he was in case he wasn’t okay. He came back in a week or so and…this was not a guy you could ask anything, so if you knew anything about Tom it was because you saw it, or he told you. He never said a word more about what happened in Mexico.”

Forcade called an old acquaintance, magazine editor Ed Dwyer, out of the blue, worried for some reason that the APS office was about to be raided. Would it be okay if he stored some things at Ed’s apartment? Forcade and his girlfriend Cindy Ornsteen showed up in true Bonnie-and-Clyde fashion: she was wearing hot pants; he was carrying a gym bag with a sawed-off shotgun and a revolver in a suitcase. Dwyer stuffed the items in his closet, where they’d stay untouched for months.

In later years, there’d be countless versions of the origins of High Times magazine. Cindy Ornsteen and fellow Zippie Tim Hughes would say that it was conceived back in late 1972, while they were hiding out in a farmhouse in Florida. But a fellow marijuana dealer said it came to Forcade, “like an epiphany” during an acid trip at his apartment in Lower Manhattan. Another account—that it was borne out of a laughing gas-induced flight of whimsy—got a lot of traction over the years. 

Certainly, much of the early conceptualizing for High Times came from Ronnie Volvox and Ed Rosenthal, who’d been working for the Alternative Press Syndicate and realized that microfilm royalties weren’t covering their operating costs.

Ed Rosenthal had worked as an assistant compliance officer on Wall Street until he realized that he could make a living by constructing and installing marijuana greenhouses for residents of upscale Central Park West and Park Avenue. “I would come and install it in your home,” Rosenthal said. “Everything but the seed.” When profiled by a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rosenthal made a bold prediction: “As grass gets more acceptable, as more certified public accountants start smoking and want to save money, you’ll get more people interested in growing their own. This is only the start of something big. I’m going to go big-time before it goes legal. Tell GE to watch out.”

Rosenthal had been pulled into Forcade’s orbit when the two marketed mail-order hemp rolling papers under the aegis of “Amorphia East,” selling them out of the Underground Press Syndicate office. As Rosenthal remembered it, the talks that evolved into High Times started with plans to start a marijuana news service. “Then I did some figuring on the economics of the potential advertising, and we decided to do a magazine.”

What Playboy had done for sex, High Times would do for dope—the difference being, of course, that one was legal and one was not.

In late 1973, dedicating themselves full-time to working on High Times, Forcade and Ornsteen moved into a large basement apartment on West 11th Street with Rosenthal, Volvox, and a Zippie named Tim Hughes. It was big enough that they were able to construct walls in the back—some with drywall, some with stacks of old underground newspapers—for living spaces and fill the front with metal desks and metal folding chairs. The linoleum floors didn’t look pretty, especially under the bright overhead lighting, but it got the job done.

Forcade returned to Ed Dwyer’s apartment, retrieved his shotgun and pistol, and offered him the position of editor of High Times.

“He left a bag of Colombian behind,” Dwyer added, “to help me decide.”

Once he’d signed on, it was time to produce a magazine. “There was just me and Ed Dwyer,” Forcade later recalled. “We were usually so wiped out we could barely crawl up to put our hands on the keyboard of the typewriters.” They added a photostat camera, an enlarger, and a Compugraphic typesetting unit.

That autumn and winter, visitors to West 11th Street were greeted by an old bronze plaque that read “Institute for Advanced Studies” and, often, tanks of nitrous oxide. Inside the doors, the hatching of ideas commenced. Many of the brainstormers—which included marijuana activist Dana Beal, Dylanologist A. J. Weberman, future Ford Fairlane creator Rex Weiner, journalist Deanne Stillman and editor Bob Singer—were alumni of the recently expired local underground newspaper the East Village Other.

“We put together a list of about 100 articles that would appear in the magazine over a period of time,” said Rosenthal. “And actually, over a period of years, those articles did eventually appear.”

Forcade continued to recruit help. Andy Kowl, Bob Lemmo, and Bo Sacks put out a Long Island underground paper called The Express. Forcade called them one day to ask if they would typeset UPS newsletters, and then he impressed them by riding the Long Island Railroad out to Hicksville with an open shopping bag of pot, showing up at their offices in his black suit, hat, and cowboy boots. They knew how to drum up publicity—Kowl rented a gorilla suit and handed out promotional Express pens on the campuses of Long Island colleges—and they had figured out that they could trade advertising space for albums, clothes, even a motorcycle. But that didn’t pay the bills. So, like many underground newspaper employees before them, they dealt grass. “Two guys named Mike and Corey, from a syndicate in Texas, were our main suppliers,” said Kowl. “Mike and I would meet at the airport, with identical suitcases, mine with the money, and his with ten or twenty pounds of pot. We would sit in the lounge, and I would talk to him while he was waiting for the plane that would take him back to Texas, and then we’d get up and take each other’s suitcase.

“At some point, I was talking to Tom, and he said, ‘I hear you know Mike and Corey.’ He said, ‘It’s kind of a pain in the neck, the way we have it arranged, so they thought you wouldn’t mind if I became your supplier for them.’ I said, that sounds good to me. So that put our relationship on another level. I started going to New York more often, to get as much poundage as possible, and spending time with Tom down in the basement of West 11th Street.” Within a year, Kowl would be named the publisher of High Times; Lemmo and Sacks, his partners at the Express would also be working for the magazine.

Ken Landgraf, a young Vietnam War veteran, was heading into a class at the School of Visual Arts when someone outside started loudly asking the students, “Is there anybody that can illustrate a catalog?”

Landgraf said he could, skipped the class, and was immediately ushered to see Forcade, who asked him to render pen-and-ink illustrations of bongs, design “Eat the Rich” rolling papers, and help paste up layouts.

Then Forcade narrated a story about smuggling. “He wanted a rope with one of those giant pallets of pot, going down in the swamp,” said Landgraf. “I didn’t even know what he was talking about because I didn’t know about the drug world. Girls were coming in there, like, giggling, and I think he was selling them drugs.

“I fell asleep on the floor, finally, because he was taking uppers of some sort, amphetamines. So that’s how he was staying up for days, working on the magazine.”

Karin Limmroth, a friend of Ed Rosenthal who’d worked at Essence and Penthouse, arrived at the office to find Forcade, surrounded by books on mushroom growing and bomb making, with a primitive prototype. “Tom has these pieces of five-by-seven red construction paper stapled together, with nothing on them, and he says, ‘Can you help me?’”

For the cover, an ex-girlfriend of Ed Dwyer photographed her friend holding a supermarket mushroom to her mouth, managing a sensuous evocation of psilocybin tripping without need of illegal props. Cindy Ornsteen picked out the foil stock on which that image was printed. “I think silver and turquoise are beautiful,” she said, “and I thought we needed a good cover to clean marijuana on.”

Courtesy of Hachette Books

Twice a year, merchants swarmed several floors of the Garment District’s Hotel McAlpin to sell wares—denim and polyester, leathers and feathers, incense and necklaces, and no small amount of junk—to retail buyers. “Beautiful people who wouldn’t go near business a few years ago, now getting involved in the so-called Establishment,” one of the cofounders crowed. “They are going to be our new market princes.”

They were also a fit for High Times. Rosenthal used his connections to secure High Times a giant space in the basement, but the finished magazine wasn’t ready in time for the January event. So they sublet the area to various paraphernalia dealers. Volvox designed a brochure (“Sticks and stems removed—you’ll get the straight dope”), and Rosenthal passed those out to potential advertisers and distributors among the eight hundred exhibitors eagerly aiming at the funky and groovy dollars of a post-hippie clientele.

But what should have been a moment of triumph was immediately thwarted by unexpected rifts.

“I was working on the booth, setting the place up,” said Rosenthal, “and Tom comes in with Tim Hughes. Tim says a few words in Tom’s ear. Tom is saying, ‘You should do it this way, you should do it that way.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you let me set it up, and then if you don’t like it, then we’ll change it around.’ And Tim says a few more words in his ear, and Tom—it was like he’s being given lines or something, I don’t know what—but Tom blows up, slashes stuff off his table.

“I don’t know if it was staged or what, but Tim provoked Tom into some sort of rage. He had some sort of unique ability to communicate with Tom in some way that other people weren’t able to. He was like his negative avatar, his black hole avatar. And he was able to manipulate Tom. It was very unusual, because Tom would usually be the person doing the manipulating, but Tim could play Tom.” (“Ed always felt like everybody was undermining him in some way,” said Hughes. “Before High Times, Tom and I were not surrounded by a lot of people, and then there was great competition for Tom’s favor and attention. A few people like Ed, they felt like I had a lot of sway with Tom. That wasn’t because Tom was manipulated; it’s because I was his partner.”)

Afterward, Forcade accused Ed Rosenthal of going to the FBI; Rosenthal said he thought Tim had been a government infiltrator. “Tim sort of planted seeds of conspiracy in Tom’s head,” said Volvox. “And Tom threw all of Ed’s stuff out in the street. So I quit and left, which I think Tom did not anticipate at all, maybe it sort of blew his mind. But he had taken actions that I wasn’t going to go along with.” 

Someone was in touch with federal agencies. On February 13, an anonymous caller tipped the Secret Service that Forcade was “involved in the purchase and sale of marijuana and LSD. The individual stated that Forcade travels to the southern part of the United States often and returns to New York with from 25 to 100 pounds of the previously mentioned narcotics on each occasion. He thereafter sells the drugs to other individuals in the village area of NYC. The individual further advised that Forcade has an undisclosed amount of firearms in his residence on most occasions. The individual concluded by advising that he believed the Secret Service would be interested in the above information.”

The Secret Service contacted the FBI, which started tracking Forcade again and tried to figure out what had happened to the shotgun that Pat Small had hidden on Mary Street in Miami.

The first issue of High Times included an excerpt from a Timothy Leary book called Terra II, an interview with an anonymous “lady dealer,” and a feature about a Florida smuggling ring that had appeared in the Daily Planet. “It was dated by the time it got in the magazine,” recalled the writer, Rod DeRemer, “and they hammered the beginning and a few other parts to make it salacious.” To his surprise, DeRemer was listed as both “contributing editor” and “High Times Correspondent from the Northern Florida Region.” He never saw a dime.

A news section rounded up drug-related scientific findings and legal developments: “California Marijuana Initiative failure to get enough signatures to get on ballot a blow to legalization, but movement stronger than ever. . . . National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) becoming more and more effective although quite straightish. . . . Amorphia [another major legalization group] having financial problems.” A breathless police blotter summarized busts around the world. Tucked away at the back, after a short record review section (Ash Ra Tempel and Mushroom Ceremony of the Mazatec Indians of Mexico) was what many readers would find to be the most indispensable feature. The “Trans-High Market Quotation” was a current-prices survey of the kind that had appeared in underground newspapers going back to Marijuana Review’s “Cassidy’s Corner,” the Ann Arbor Sun’s “Dope-O-Scope,” and the East Village Other’s “Intergalactic Union Dopogram.” But those were all regional—this was a national buyer’s guide, with the kind of wide-ranging information to which only narcotics agents would supposedly otherwise have access. A dealer friend provided Forcade with what would be the Trans-High Market’s recurring photograph, depicting Operation Intercept narcs operating phones in front of a chalkboard of going rates.

A notice assured subscribers concerned about government surveillance: “the mailing list is encoded and kept in wax sealed envelope in the safe of a lawyer whose name is known only to the publisher.”

High Times didn’t secure paraphernalia advertising until after the first issue was published, so the sponsorship bore the distinct mark of Cindy Ornsteen’s astrological interests. There were display ads scattered throughout from a publisher specializing in the occult, and a full-page promotion for a book about the joys of nitrous oxide.

Years later, some would claim that the magazine was a lark, that it was intended to be a one-shot deal. But from the beginning, its ongoing goals were clear: “You are guaranteed the highest efficiency for your ad, if you want to reach the High Society,” promised a splashy solicitation. “Back cover, $500; inside front and inside back cover, $450.” With that inside front cover not yet sold, High Times used the space to tease stories being planned for future issues, gems like “A Visit to the Colombian Pot Fields,” “Pyramids & Ancient Highs,” “Child Pot Smokers: In Their Own Words,” “Training the Pot Pooch,” and “Getting High in the Year 2000.”

Ornsteen even started a unique campaign to sell subscriptions by sending sample issues to drug-defendant lawyers: “High Times is dedicated to getting high, and that relates to your practice—news of your cases, defenses, tactics, the new drugs, the new highs. You should have a copy in your law library. And you should have a copy in your waiting room. Your partners might want copies for their offices. You might even want a copy for home….If you’d like to be in simple possession, it will cost you $10.00 for 12 issues. If you’d like to be in multiple possession, we’ll charge you only $8.00 for every subscription.”

In lieu of interest from established newsstand distributors, copies went to retailers and distributors from the Fashion and Boutique show, drug paraphernalia merchants, head shops, and underground newspaper offices.

The issue was also, notably, disseminated through networks of marijuana dealers, who would buy hundreds of copies at cover price and include them in bales to friends and customers. Forcade personally carried copies when he hit the road.  The editor of one Wisconsin underground paper remembered Forcade showing up in its offices “with two valises, one filled with magazines and the other with pounds of Colombian pot.” 

On May 23, 1974, High Times was formally rolled out at a party in a rented suite of the Gramercy Park Hotel. A pair of rented brass fountains spat out red and white wine; fifty-pound nitrous oxide tanks supplied laughing gas for guests.

Initial media coverage of High Times was sparse, and hardly encouraging. “Is there a market for a magazine for potheads?” sniped New Times magazine. “No, but nevertheless High Times comes to you in plain brown wrapper with false return address….More about grass than you need to know.” Distributors refused to carry it.

Those dismissals didn’t matter. By the time Richard Nixon left office that August, High Times’ first issue had sold out its initial print run of twenty-five thousand copies.

“It’s like trying to ride a rocket,” Forcade said.

With the second issue, the High Times template was set. Buttressing the usual news updates and lifestyle primers (“How to Read a Rolling Paper”) were a true crime feature (“Death in the Desert,” in which two sisters, walking to school, stumbled upon the aftermath of a fatal three-way shoot-out between an Arizona smuggler and two Customs agents); excerpts from the Senate subcommittee hearings on “Hashish Smuggling and Passport Fraud” (which arose after the breakup of the Timothy Leary–affiliated Brotherhood of Eternal Love ring); and a long, candid interview with the former deputy director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, who was now advocating for decriminalization (“Operation Intercept,” he told High Times, “was a mistake and a fiasco.”). “I Was JFK’s Dealer,” by the pseudonymous Lesley Morrissey, signaled another mainstay for the magazine, one that threatened to undermine the more serious claims of journalism: whole-cloth fabrications. There was also, significantly, a full-page ad for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which had emerged as the leading voice for legislative action. High Times’s support for NORML included not just monetary contributions and co sponsored events but also free- of-charge space in every issue that garnered a steady stream of donations from the readership. 

Finally, the issue included the inaugural edition of the High Times centerfold, which lovingly depicted, sometimes in gauzy close-ups, rare and notable drug specimens. It was a ridiculous monthly hallmark whose notoriety would transcend the magazine’s actual readership. The magazine borrowed Playboy’s sexualized language to introduce its “budding beauty,” a twenty-pound cube of Colombian cannabis that “grew up close to the soil with her shapely stems planted firmly in the ground” and whose “rich golden tan bespeaks of months spent basking in the sensuous sunshine.” 

The launch party for the second issue was a bigger affair than the first; by now they’d drummed up interest from national media and deep-pocketed luminaries like Stuart Mott. Staff from the Times, Vogue, Newsweek, and Time and a phalanx of Japanese businessmen were among the two hundred curious souls who made their way into the ballroom of the Gramercy Park Hotel, decorated with the original painting Forcade had commissioned for the cover. WNEW’s 10 O’clock News arrived as guests were served pieces of a cake iced with a magic-mushroom design. 

Ornsteen, wearing a Girl Scout uniform open to the waist and a tiny coke spoon around her neck, used the pseudonym “Anastasia Sirrocco” when speaking to an Associated Press reporter. “If a couple of thousand airplane pilots can have 20 glossy magazines, why can’t 26 million dope smokers have one, too?” she asked rhetorically and admitted that “contacts in the drug underworld” provided the market quotations. “We don’t advocate the use of drugs,” she said, “but do feel that a trade magazine for the drug industry is necessary.” 

“Channel 5 got two guys to come out in the hall and snort cocaine, and blacked out their faces,” Lemmo said. “That was the first cocaine snorting on television.” 

In the cloakroom, a white-coated dentist operated two blue nitrous tanks, handing out balloons emblazoned with the High Times logo. At first, the older journalists looked on quizzically; by the end of the night, they were holding empty balloons, and elbowing one another to get back to the front of the line. 

The dentist was a neighbor of art director Karin Limmroth, who spent the evening serving hash brownies on a silver tray. “No one knew what was in anything, and we didn’t talk about it,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Please, you might want to just have this half and see how you feel in about an hour,’ but they were greedy, grabbing them by the handful. People were really scared of the punch, but that, in fact, was just punch. You know, the brownies were good. But they were strong, and a lot of middle-aged people were expanding their minds for the first time in their lives. The next day there were calls on the RSVP line, ‘How do you come down?’ I think a couple people ended up in the emergency room.” According to one High Times employee, three indulging guests subsequently brought lawsuits against the magazine. 

Within four weeks, High Times had sold out its fifty-thousand-copy run of the second issue. For the third issue, they printed eight-five thousand copies. Meanwhile, they kept going back to press for reprints and sold subscriptions to college libraries, district attorneys, and, in a turn that would later arouse suspicion, government agencies.

The magazine quickly became an informational network not just for consumers but for paraphernalia manufacturers, distributors, and head shops, a guidebook to the lay of the land. This was the way America was going to standardize its idea of what different strains of marijuana looked like, tasted like, felt like, and cost. 

“We figure we’re getting in below the ground floor of a new industry,” Forcade—using the pseudonym “Michael King”—told Newsday. “By the time dope is legal, we’ll be firmly established.” 

And anyway, he said, the magazine “isn’t about drugs. It’s about getting high. We foresee a time when there’ll be more sophisticated ways of getting high, like meditation, but right now it’s marijuana.” 

Forcade wasn’t the only one who wanted to keep his name off the High Times masthead.

Limmroth panicked when she saw an issue come off the presses with her name listed there. “Oh, but I thought that was, like, your pseudonym,” someone responded. “Nobody uses their real name around here.”

Diana Drucella, who succeeded Limmroth as art director, remembered that Forcade often thought he was being tailed and that “everything we paid for was in drug money—small denominations of twenties, tens, fives.” Things were not always mellow. “You’d almost not want to mention something that needed to get done,” she said, “because you didn’t know if he would kind of lose it on you.” Forcade soon began to express concern about informants. “There’s a cop here,” he would say to staffers. “We just don’t know which one of you it is.” According to Dennis Giangreco, Forcade set up a shadow High Times staff, in case of emergency. “Peter Bramley of National Lampoon was to be the art director if there was a wipe-out of the senior staff by New York State or the feds. The idea was to turn on a dime and maintain all schedules and contracts. Duplicate business and subscription records were maintained at separate locations, and separate accounts were kept at Manufacturers Hanover. It was a very closely held affair, since Tom found that nearly everyone associated with High Times either had a very big mouth or, he believed, were likely to blab at the slightest threat of imprisonment. Tom bounced back and forth between no worries and the conviction that it could happen any day.”

“We were usually so wiped out we could barely crawl up to put our hands on the keyboard of the typewriters”

The magazine was getting scary in other ways.  Limmroth had left the job after a tree came crashing through the office window and landed near the layout table she worked at. Forcade had hit the tree with a delivery truck he was driving. “I was, like, stunned,” she said, “and Tom strolled through the door like nothing had happened.”

Even more unsettling was the tripod sentry. “It was a mess in his office, and he would lose stuff,” said Giangreco. “He would say ‘Well, if it’s not on top of anything, then it must be underneath something.’ And he would start turning over stuff. In one instance, he was certain that something that was missing had been lifted—that someone had been getting into his office. He took his shotgun, and he cocked that sucker. You could hear it.

And he was working on trying to set it up on a tripod; his door was closed but you could hear him rushing and banging around in there.”

When Forcade finally emerged, he announced, “There’s a gun set up in my office! Don’t go in there, you’ll be shot.” It was pointed toward his door and right beyond at Drucella’s chair. Another employee remembered her working “with wide, saucer eyes, terrified.”

Forcade was keeping guns and large reserves of cash at Cindy’s Bank Street apartment. After the police knocked on the superintendent’s door one day, Cindy decided she’d had enough and demanded he move it elsewhere.

“I have nowhere else to put it!” he pleaded.

The next day, Cindy came into the office and found herself out of a job. She was gone before the third issue was published.

But the magazine’s profile was rising everywhere. A giant billboard— with a smiling pilot in a bomber jacket in front of a DC-3, giving a thumbs-up next to the words “Ask Your Local Dealer”—went up along Sunset Boulevard. Editor Bob Singer traveled to McLeod Ganj in India for an exclusive audience with the Dalai Lama. (High Times: “Have you ever taken any drugs?” Dalai Lama: “No…enlightenment should be curried by the full alert mind.”) When a New York City man held ten hostages in a New York bank for eight hours, the gunman demanded $10 million in gold, an airplane, and to speak with someone from High Times. “There is nothing I wanted more than to have some of your people come in to join me for a nice long chat and friendly smoke-in,” the robber later wrote from Rikers Island.

The offices moved yet again, this time uptown to 27th Street, near Madison Square Park, where there was room to run things like a real magazine, with copyeditors and proofreaders, drawing tables and a stat room, and offices for each editor.

The imagined readership had gotten fancier, too. Where an early issue had included a guide to the best scales one could buy, now there were illustrated spreads on “Dealers’ Wheels” (recommending a Lamborghini Countach for speed and a four-door Chevy station wagon for stealth) and “How to Fly Low.”

With the addition of Toni Brown as art director, High Times achieved a sheen of hip glamour and professionalism. Brown, a hypersocial lesbian who favored bright orange flight suits and aviator sunglasses, commissioned work from high-profile fashion photographers and brought the magazine’s visual style in line with the slickest of consumer periodicals on the newsstands.

As it approached the end of 1975, High Times’s circulation had skyrocketed past 250,000 per issue. The page count had more than doubled to more than a hundred pages, about a third of which were paid ads—for pipes of glass, oak, brass, plastic, teak, or rosewood; for sterling coke- stash pendants; for seashells you could smoke out of; for quaalude paperweights; for joint chimneys attached to under-the-jacket plastic tubes that could be sucked on “at a concert, at a ballgame, on a picnic.” The Mary-gin ($5) would clean your weed, and the Isomerizer ($275) promised to extract oil, turn CBD to THC, and “convert low-rotating forms of THC as found in low-quality marijuana and hashish to the more psychedelic and spiritual high-rotating forms.” If you were tired of marijuana, you could order “lettuce opium,” which could be “smoked alone or blended with favorite herbs.”

The Christmas 1975 issue—a whopping 148 pages—also featured ads from record companies, hi-fi manufacturers, and, in a unique post-Watergate sign of the times, a manufacturer of anti-bugging devices. “Tom was totally hung up on getting non-paraphernalia ads,” recalled Shelly Schorr, who came on to sell advertising. “Film ads, record ads—it didn’t make a difference, he loved it.” Of course, there were limits. “He knew that Chevrolet wasn’t gonna buy ads.”

High Times was now a glossy travelogue of high adventure and a wellspring of news about “the business” from an international network of sources. With regular updates on price fluctuations, tips for would-be entrepreneurs, and its alliance with NORML, it had simultaneously legitimized and commodified the drug culture. And the drug culture was winning battles.

As the magazine scornfully covered anti-narcotics government task forces with names like Operation Dragnet (the first maritime blockade in US waters since the rum patrols of the Prohibition era), Operation Buccaneer (targeting Jamaican traffic), and Operation Star Trek (utilizing the Air Force’s NORAD system to track smuggling planes), it gleefully reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s embattled first director, John Bartels, was resigning and that the Senate was preparing to investigate the agency.


Most importantly, thanks to the growing popularity of marijuana, successful lobbying, and quickly developing scientific research—not to mention Nixon’s absence, and the wave of new Democrats who’d been elected in midterms—legalization was moving quickly. Alaska, Maine, Colorado and California, and Ohio all decriminalized marijuana in the spring and summer of 1975. Higher times, it seemed, were coming to America.