In a sense, it almost seems shocking that it took the brass at High Times this long to get into the part of the market where they can actually sell some cannabis.
Founded in 1974, the magazine rose to fame as a bastion of the underground marijuana movement that was just beginning to gain prominence across the U.S. There were centerfolds of “sexy” plants, insightful commentary from a plethora of significant names, and tips on how to grow your own.
As recently as 2014, High Times was pulling in between 500,000 and 5 million users a month. Now located in Los Angeles, the company was later purchased in 2018 by the investor group Oreva Capital. The following year, they bought Green Rush Daily Inc., one of numerous smaller cannabis news publications that High Times has brought into the fold over the decades.
Even before these recent shifts, High Times has always been asked to adapt to the moment.
A lot has changed in the past 46 years, including the legal status of cannabis throughout much of the country.
Battling both a severely ailing journalism market and a new legal industry in which High Times is but one of a number of players, there has been turmoil for the publication in recent years. On May 6, Marijuana Business Daily reported that the company would be taking on its third CEO in just over a year.
Following the departure of Kraig Fox — who held the title for nine months — former Overstock.com executive Stormy Simon announced she’d be leaving on May 6 after only four months in the role. Replacing her is Peter Horvath, previously of American Eagle Outfitters and Victoria’s Secret.
Horvath, then, will oversee High Time’s acquisition of 13 dispensaries from multistate operator Harvest Health & Recreation. Announced on April 28, the purchase is “valued at $80 million, but High Times is paying only $5 million in cash with the rest in preferred stock and a promissory note.” The buy includes some dispensaries currently in operation as well as some that remain in the planning stages.
Beyond the value of having High Times-branded storefronts and the associated marketing value of physical retail space, the company’s plans don’t stop there.
High Times has already invested in California-based cannabis growing, processing, and product manufacturing operations as well. By subscribing to a vertically integrated model — in which one company is responsible for all facets of a product from seed to sale — High Times is clearly looking to remind customers of their belief that their name is synonymous with weed.
It’s significant to see an outlet devoted to reporting on weed get into the business of selling it, but this is hardly a substantial deviation from normal economic behavior. To be certain, advertising of all shapes and stripes has always been a core facet of the magazine’s finances. At a time when such advertisers are dropping their buys in record numbers, it makes a certain kind of sense that one of our oldest authorities on cannabis might want to put their seal of approval on some glass jars of profit.
The issue, of course, is the necessary separation of “church and state” when it comes to reporting on cannabis and selling it too. Even if the very concept of strain reviews is founded on some fairly nebulous assumptions, no one wants to see criticism hamstrung by financial concerns. Likewise, if High Times is becoming the business it reports on, will they be reporting on themselves? The idea of playing watchdog and salesman is fraught with potential ethical perils, but all concerns remain theoretical at this stage.
As is often the case, the burden will fall to consumers to decide if they like what they’re smelling from High Times. There is a path forward that is both ethically responsible and plausibly lucrative. Which road one of the most iconic names in the world of cannabis will choose to travel shall soon be revealed.