Can the Bible of Weed Survive in the Age of Vaping?
For decades, High Times was the flagship of cannabis culture. Now it’s struggling to keep up.
On a cold Saturday last March, dozens of young men in sweatshirts and graphic tees came to Salem, Massachusetts, with wads of cash to see the first solo exhibition by Bob Snodgrass. The 73-year-old Snodgrass, who arrived wearing his signature tie-dye fisherman’s hat and lavender Lennon sunglasses, is widely considered the godfather of glass pipes and a delegate from a bygone era of stoner culture: a time of sharing joints, eating homemade pot brownies — and reading High Times magazine.
For decades, Snodgrass’ intricately crafted bongs were regularly featured in High Times. Just a few years ago, a Snodgrass exhibit would have been catnip for the publication. But it wasn’t until the show wound down, after a group of about 20 men bought their pipes and finished smoking around a communal table, that Ab Hanna, a High Times staff writer, casually stopped by.
Hanna joined the magazine two years ago, in the midst of a tumultuous era for High Times and weed journalism at large. Family owned and operated out of New York for decades, the High Times company was purchased in 2017 by private equity firm Oreva Capital for $42 million. The marijuana industry is in the rush of a legalization boom, and everyone from Barneys to Martha Stewart is lining up to get a hit. That includes the media.
In the last half decade, a fresh crop of cannabis magazines has flushed the market. Glossies like Broccoli and Kitchen Toke, which often embrace vaping and edibles over joints and bongs, are tapping into the wellness and lifestyle space, all the while distancing themselves from the old stereotypes of stoner culture — stereotypes that High Times has long embodied and embraced.
For the first time in its history, High Times magazine now has serious national competition in the marijuana space. To keep up, the company has to walk a thin line between appealing to a large, new — and increasingly female — audience without alienating its longtime readership. In its attempt to do so, High Times has hit some bumps. Over the past two years, more than half of the editorial staff, including veteran editors, was laid off or…