Pot, Pyramids, and Politics: ‘High Times’ Magazine, 1976 – 1977

Exhibit / December 18, 2018


Object NameHigh Times magazine
Maker and Year: Trans-High Corporation, 1976-1977
Object Type: Magazine
Image Source: Author’s collection and High Times Cover to Cover archive
Description (Michael Grasso):

High Times arrived on newsstands in 1974, initially intended to be a single-issue lark by founder Tom Forçade. But the magazine ended up becoming an underground institution, a harbinger of increasingly liberal points of view among the Baby Boomer generation on cannabis consumption and the increasing establishment of a domestic American hemp production market. Forçade, in the years after his 1967 graduation from college and Vietnam-era discharge from the U.S. Air Force, became a commune member, underground journalist, political provocateur, and eventually ran the Underground Press Syndicate, a group of dozens of alt weekly and counterculture newspapers.

By the late ’70s, High Times was one of the most popular magazines among the country’s younger generation. Aside from featuring pages of full-color “centerfolds” of prime bud and monthly reports on the cost of various drugs in black markets across the world, the magazine, hearkening back to Forçade’s underground days, was one of the last major publications willing to seriously report on political conspiracy from a countercultural perspective. Of course, investigative journalism on governmental crackdowns on drug cultivation and trafficking always loomed large. In the magazine’s recurring “Highwitness News” section, High Times reporters covered stories on legal proceedings against growers and traffickers as well as marijuana decriminalization efforts on the political front.

In the “High Centennial” issue of July 1976, High Times offers a series of cover pieces on both political conspiracy—Richard Ashley’s look at the history of marijuana prohibition —and occult politics—Glenn O’Brien’s fantastic “Your Daddy Was a Weirdo,” which begins with a visit to the famous Source Family cult health food restaurant on Sunset Boulevard and then speeds through a series of associations between the Founding Fathers’ (and contemporary politicians like Gerald Ford’s) Freemasonry, the secret messages in the Great Seal of the United States, the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the common links between American Masonic iconography and Hermetic magical practice, ancient Egyptian magical ritual, and the purported rites of the medieval Knights Templar. In November of 1976, George O’Toole looked at AT&T’s surveillance omnipresence in Cold War America with his deep dive into “Ma Bell’s Private CIA.” The Christmas issue in 1976, complete with toking Santa on the cover, promises tips on how to set up a “psychic gym” full of home ESP training equipment, and also includes novelist Tom Robbins’s paean to the psychonautic, “superheroic” properties of fly agaric. In the long aftermath of Watergate, High Times continued to stick close to its investigative underground roots, running interviews with Watergate conspirators such as Frank Sturgis, which danced around his possible connections to the JFK assassination (Sturgis fingered Fidel Castro as the main driver of the assassination plot).

Within every issue, advertisements for drug paraphernalia abound, but there are also a few sellers of occult paraphernalia as well; pyramid power was very popular in the late ’70s, with several makers of human-size pyramid frame meditation aids, as well as smaller pyramids for keeping pot supplies fresh and healthy.

Pop culture references both from this period and set within this period seem to invoke High Times‘s unique perspective on the hidden depths of 1970s America. High school stoner-philosopher Slater’s (Rory Cochrane) monologue about the Founding Fathers being into aliens and pot in Dazed and Confused (1993) seems to owe something to Glenn O’Brien’s July 1976 piece on the “spooky stuff” happening on the dollar bill. And Dr. Johnny Fever, the famously stoned and often paranoid DJ from sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982), seems to have consumed and internalized George O’Toole’s November ’76 piece on “the phone cops” in the Season 4 WKRP episode “An Explosive Affair.”

High Times was ahead of its time in its publicity of and support for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana; in 2018, the magazine is still in business, and weed is legal for medical use in 33 states plus the District of Columbia.

2 thoughts on “Pot, Pyramids, and Politics: ‘High Times’ Magazine, 1976 – 1977

  1. Pingback: “Don’t Trust Civilization”: ‘Soldier of Fortune’ Magazine and the Masculine Myth

  2. Pingback: “Stoned at Shadow Lake”: The Journals of Heron Stone, 1977

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