by Dean Becker
by Steve Nolin
Guest: Steve Bloom, High Times Magazine
(Audio Track) Intro – My name is Dean Becker; I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Dean: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Here in just a moment, we’ll have our guest for the evening, the editor of the new, highly revamped High Times magazine, Mr. Steve Bloom. Poppygate report will be in this Sunday’s 4:20 Drug War News report. Well, “the buds are back”; and so says High Times magazine and its editor, our guest for this evening, Mr. Steve Bloom. Can you hear me Steve?
Bloom: I can, Dean. Thank you for having me.
Dean: Yes, sir, welcome to the show.
Bloom: Welcome back.
Dean: Well, yes, we had you on just almost a year ago, if I recall.
Bloom: I think so.
Dean: Yes, sir. When last we talked, you guys had, I don’t know, cloned the Grow America magazine; but we’re going back to the original now. We’re going back to High Times. Tell us about that, please.
Bloom: Well, as of this year, 2005 – we started last year 2004, towards the end of the year, we started to revamp the magazine back to the format that – you know, people expect High Times to be a marijuana magazine. And the year of 2004 we tried something different and it wasn’t really received very well by the readers, and we responded. So, we’re back. Sort of took a year off, so to speak; and now are moving ahead. We do just say “the buds are back.” That’s the January issue. And we follow that up with the next several issues. The one that’s coming out right now is the Cannabis Cup Special for the March issue. So, you know, we are sort of back to where we were essentially after going through some changes.
Dean: Well, I want to let the listeners know out there who haven’t seen the new edition, yes, indeed the buds are back. The pictures are beautiful. The stories are compelling, and highly informative. I want to congratulate you. I like what you have done, Steve.
Bloom: Thanks a lot, Dean.
Dean: You bet. Tell us a little bit more, if you will, about the January issue. Here, I’m looking through it and it’s just eye candy. It’s wonderful stuff. Beautiful pictures.
Bloom: Well, that issue features some stories about how to grow marijuana and, as you say, the beautiful photos. And we continue to do that in Grow America and a little less so in High Times in the last year. And so, we just wanted to come back strong with a marijuana focus in the magazine that lends itself to good photography and stories about how to grow marijuana. Also, it has music stories, and culture, and politics. We have an article that was a lot of fun in the issue – Maroon 5, the pop-rock band that’s one of the biggest selling rock bands out there right now. They smoked for our photographer, and did a really good interview with us. So that got us a lot of interest on the cultural side, and that’s what we try to do. We try to mix it up, and we’ve also kind of spiced up the format of the magazine – make it a little funnier and a little more spoofy; the front of the magazine especially. And I just try to make it fresh and respond to people today. This is a different generation than the ‘90s, the ‘80s, and the ‘70s; and High Times goes back to all those years. So we have to be and respond to what the new reader is looking for from us. You know, what do they want? What information do they want? And we respond, and we read all their emails. People want to know how to beat a drug test. People want to know where can they buy seeds. People want to know all kinds of information about growing. They also want to know where they can travel and sort of have a good time, so to speak. And how can they carry things, you know, and not get arrested. Obviously, people want to know about medical marijuana and all the different states where it is available, and how successful has that been in California, and where should you go, and how should you do it. So we just sort of serve the readers in that respect, and give them this information that they are asking for; and we do it on the website, hightimes.com. We do it in the magazine. And we kind separate all our coverage between the two media bases that we have, the magazine – the print magazine – and the website, the electronic version.
Dean: Now, Steve, the Cannabis Cup preview is in the January issue, and as I understand it, the full report of the 17th Cannabis Cup will be in the March issue coming out?
Bloom: That issue is actually ready now. It’s actually just about hitting the stands. It’s technically probably out next week, but it’s really kind of leaked out already like it generally does a week or so before our street date. And so, we’ve seen it around New York; the Cannabis Cup issue is out. The only thing that is probably different about this year’s cup issue besides just the overall quality coverage and photos is that it’s in March, which is earlier than we have done it in any issue in the past. We came back from the Cup this year and really jammed it out. Previously we had the Cannabis Cup issue in May, and then moved it to April. This year we just moved it to March. We didn’t want anybody to beat our coverage of our own event, and so we do 15 pages or more in the magazine on the cup; so it’s great. In that same issue, the one that is coming out, we balance that off with music coverage. We do a tribute to Bob Marley, who would have been 60 this year. There will be a lot of celebrations about that in February. We always look for some unique Bob Marley angle and focus that we can find every year – but at least every couple of years – around this February celebration. And we do it in the March issue, and it is just out there in February. This year, we excerpted his photos from Kate Simon’s amazing book that she just put out called Rebel Music. And featured stories from the book, as well as we did a more or less abridged version of the original Bob Marley interview in High Times in 1976; and just great photos throughout the pages on that. You have the Cup, 12 pages, the big centerfold, and then Bob Marley; and then wrapped around that, you have the front of the book with sort of news, and a mixture of all kind of stories in the back, which is a little bit more grow technique and what we call a section in the back called “Know Your Rights,” which is legal questions. We have a section called “Busted Letters,” “The Drug Test,” and the “NORMLizer,” which is a column that the NORML people write. And the “Freedom Fighter of the Month” – we select somebody who has done something really important during some period of time. You know, working on some sort of campaign; or somebody who is a leader out there, trying to change the laws. So we just do this on a monthly basis, but we freshened it up; and it is really exciting. I’ve worked with the magazine since 1988, and I’ve seen some changes here over time; but I feel like we are as fresh as we have been in a long time.
Dean: I had a musical guest on back during the holiday season. They were in studio – Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies. They and Carolyn Wonderland went to the Netherlands back, I guess, in November. Did a little musical tour over there, and certainly toured the coffee shops. And they talked about the fact that it’s just nothing like in America – the freedom to sit and enjoy a good smoke and to sit with friends and know that you aren’t going to get hassled by the man. Has that been your experience? Have you gotten to go to these cannabis cups, as well?
Bloom: Yeah, I’ve been to the last seven cups, and so I go to Amsterdam at least once a year. I love it. It’s kind of like a retreat, you know. You can just breathe differently; and you can just get a little healthier, where you don’t feel like you are under this sort of constant duress. Where here you are being treated as a criminal for smoking pot, and over there it’s just so normal. You just go into the local coffee shop, which is kind of like, “slash bar,” because a lot of these places sell beer, and maybe some alcohol. But for the most part, you know, it is coffee, juice, beer, whatever. And you sit there and you smoke, and it’s just such a normalized thing that they do there. And when I was just there last, I got the chance to do that a little bit more than usual. I normally go over there, and I work the event. I’m kind of like tied to helping organize and run things. And this year, I didn’t do that; and I just sort of went a little bit more as the High Times editor. You know, went around to the shops to meet people and just schmooze a little bit. And just enjoy the place in general in a way that I usually don’t have the time, a little bit more leisurely. And I was able to do that, just go over to my favorite place. One of the places I love to go to is the Dolphin. It’s in the Leidesplein section. In the Dolphin I just seemed to run into people I knew a little bit more, and I liked the location. It was very close to where I was staying, and I kept going there. It was a cool central place for me to meet people and then see where I would go next. It was so much fun. Amsterdam is just such a great place. There are so many ways, even if pot wasn’t legal – I mean, there are so many more progressive policies. They have gay marriage, they have euthanasia, they have clean needles; they have smart shops on the street where you can buy mushrooms. They just have so many things there that here would be frowned upon. It’s just sad. It’s sad that the country that in a lot of ways has a lot to do with the forming of the United States. Holland, or the Netherlands, the Dutch – you know, they had such an impact on the United States. In a lot of ways, as much as the Brits, as much as England really, when you think about it, and yet we can’t think alike at this point in time when it comes to the same public policies. And those are the ones that matter to me the most, especially marijuana, but there are others. You know, they give you the understanding that you can make these changes, and it can be implemented. But maybe in a smaller country, it is easier. I don’t know. I don’t think the United States will follow the formula of what is succeeding in Holland. I think it will be different here. I think it will be much more of a commercial system when marijuana is legalized. And there will be money to go around for everybody and it won’t be so, you know, little shops around all over the place. And that’s what they decided to do, with very small quantities being moved around. So I don’t think that will be the case here, but I think it will take some time before we will ever see commercial marijuana in the U.S.
Dean: Well, Steve, I started my time as a drug reformer, as a marijuana – sacramental marijuana – advocate. And as time went by and I educated myself, I just kept stepping a little further until I stand for the deregulation of all drugs to adults. And I was really thrilled with one of the articles in the March issue, the look at the DEA museum, and what they are trying to do there with – to demonize those who use drugs, and the write-up. The pictures are beautiful, but the content that went along with this story is just wonderful. You guys nailed it right on the head.
Bloom: Well, I’ll tell Dave who is my co-editor of the magazine who wrote that. I’m glad you liked it. You know, this is just such a ridiculous notion that drugs cause terrorism or are related to, or work hand in hand with; and I mean it is such a sort of a desperation move. A lot of what the government does about marijuana, especially, is kind of desperation. I mean, they want to say drugs fine, but they want to lump marijuana in there, too. You know, is that really true? I mean, where is marijuana really influencing any type of terrorist movement around the world? I mean, where? in the Philippines or something? Where? You tell me. Colombia? Is that what they are doing? They are growing pot, and they are getting arms? I don’t think so. So where is the logic of this statement? But you know, on the other side we just basically say, “well that’s a good enough reason to grow your own or to buy domestic.” Or to try and – we’re not opposed to foreign marijuana coming into the U.S., but the way it has to come here, it sometimes doesn’t come in the best condition; and so we kind of would rather get something that would be a little higher grade. We could do it ourselves here in the U.S. We don’t really need to count on a lot of this foreign marijuana.
Dean: The one quote – let’s see if I can recall, that was in that story – that it’s “patriotic to grow your own”; and I would tend to agree with that.
Bloom: Well, if you want to say it that way, it’s fine. I mean, it’s sensible in a lot of ways. The only thing that’s not sensible is having to hide doing it. And each person who does it is under a certain kind of stress that only the person who does it knows. And everybody takes that differently, handles it and works with it, and keeps it private in certain ways. So you put yourself in a different struggle when you do that. You are more illegal than if you just buy pot from somebody. You are really, you know, a little more involved with it. And so you are taking more of a risk and all that; and as long as it is illegal, people are going to be somewhat reluctant, even though they want to. They will try; they will give it their best shot. I mean, obviously, prohibition has created a whole generation of gardeners – people who probably never would have grown marijuana in their lives if it was legal. They wouldn’t have had to. So people sort of took it upon themselves to become botanists, and they are breeding marijuana.
Dean: Geneticists, indeed.
Bloom: Yes, exactly. It’s amazing. I mean, Michael Pollon wrote in the New York Times years ago, amazed at the advanced techniques of horticulture that marijuana growers are involved with. So we document that of course in High Times, where part of that – you know, we kind of maybe started that in a lot of ways, because there’s a whole thing around marijuana, the growing of it didn’t really exist until High Times started doing extensive coverage in the mid ‘80s. So we have been there from the beginning on so many things – medical marijuana was in our first issue in ‘74. Not that we want to blow our own horn about things, but sometimes we just want to make sure people know what our role has been. We wrote about hemp years ago. Just sort have been ahead of the curve generally speaking; and so, I think we are moving in a good direction. I feel even though it is a conservative time, obviously we await the Supreme Court decision on the Raich case. That will impact heavily on medical availability; and being able to not be arrested for growing or possessing if you are a medical patient, generally throughout the country. So that’s huge. And we are hoping for a good result on that. And if not, keep just hammering away on every front to change the laws on marijuana.
Dean: Now, I look at the issue – the 350th issue. Let’s talk a little bit about the history. Exactly when did High Times get its feet?
Bloom: 1974 – it was an outgrowth of an underground press syndicate that Tom Forcade the founder of High Times was doing; and he wanted to have a magazine. He felt that the time was right; and he, I think, looked at Playboy and saw Playboy as a model for a magazine about a subject that is somewhat taboo. The subject was marijuana, and maybe broader – you know, in a broader sense, drugs. And so he created a magazine called High Times. It came out quarterly, and then it came out bi-monthly, and then it went annual in ‘76. His years at High Times – he had 5 years with High Times; and then he passed away in ’78 – were just dynamic; those years, those issues, are just phenomenal in every way. I mean, Susan Sontag just passed away – she was interviewed in High Times back in the ‘70s. We just covered a lot of territory back then. We were, maybe, a little broader than we are today. Their focus was the smuggler, and that romanticism around going out of the country to bring the marijuana back and all those great stories. And that’s what Tom Forcade was. He was a smuggler, as well as a media mavin, a mogul. He went to Colombia quite a bit and brought back marijuana; and he basically funded everything with that. And that was his thing, and so he was quite the adventurer and was a swashbuckler of the period. And had a wild reputation in the office back then as being kind of wanting things done a certain way; and if he wasn’t happy with that, you know, you were in trouble. And yet it was a big party in the office, and there was every imaginable drug available; and those are the stories we hear. I started here in ’88, and it has always been a fun place; but it’s not quite that idea. But that’s the ‘70s; and you know High Times sprang out of that period. Saturday Night Live started in ‘75. High Times started in ‘74, and we are out of that period. There was sort of like post-60s counterculture, where there was a growth of the counterculture that was evolving out of the ‘60s; and High Times is one of those elements that came through and got caught up in that wave, and very naturally and organically came together. It was the first magazine about this subject, and has continued on until today, just like SNL – you know, where SNL has gone through its ups and downs; people like it more at certain times and less other times; its more dynamic a show at some times than others; and maybe the magazine is a little like that, too. Going through the changes societally and the flow of employees and staffers and, you know, who has generated the most energy and the most life of the magazine over a fairly long period now. So, it’s an interesting flow. But basically from the time it went from the ‘70s into the ‘80s, High Times was in more rocky waters, I think, financially during the “just-say-no” ‘80s era. And we came out of that pretty well, as sort of adapting to sort of a new generation of people who were coming up smoking pot and interested in the magazine again; and sort of created – a new audience started jumping aboard in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. And I think certainly the Clinton era, even through Clinton didn’t really do too much to change the drug war or lighten the burden on potheads, he was more permissive; his government was just more permissive. It’s not like it is today under Bush. I mean, it was a little easier to sort of forge ahead with the medical marijuana movement in the ‘90s, I think; and it might have been a little harder to start now.
Dean: You bet.
Bloom: Fortunately it started then; and similarly in the ‘70s the decrim movement, or decriminalizing marijuana, started under Carter, under a Democratic government. So you need that sort of help to sort of spur things along, but at the same time, just because you have a conservative government that doesn’t mean that you are just going to lay back and say “we’re not going to try to change the laws because you are not our friends.” You might want to work a little harder to really counteract everything that they come up with to try and send you off track.
Dean: Well, Steve Bloom, I want to thank you for joining us tonight. He is the editor of the new High Times, “the buds are back.” And we thank you for being our guest on Cultural Baggage.
Bloom: Thanks for having me, Dean.
Dean: You bet.
This is Officer Budless, director of the Law Enforcement Academic Foundation:
Speaker 1: “Today we are here to warn the youth of America about the dangers of smoking hemp. What’s hemp? You say? Well, kids, hemp is a type of cannabis grown worldwide for its fibers, which grow long and tall, but the smoking of the plant won’t get you high.”
Speaker 2: “That’s right, Steve, long and tall – no buzz at all.”
Speaker 1: “Hey, it’s Sergeant Dan Stemly. Tell us, Sergeant Stemly, is hemp just marijuana that is low in THC, the chemical that gets you high?”
Speaker 2: “Not only that, Officer Budless, but it also contains high levels of CBD, a cannabinoid which neutralizes the high. You’d have better luck getting stoned smoking a rolled up newspaper.”
Speaker 1: “Thanks for the head-up, Sergeant Dan. So remember, kids, rope isn’t dope, and long and tall – no buzz at all. Join us next time as we learn the difference between coca and cocoa at the Law Enforcement Academic Foundation.”
Dean: Deputy Director of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson:
“Marijuana may not cause the overdose deaths like heroin, but it’s just as dangerous.”
Dean: For thousands of years, marijuana has been known as an appetite stimulant and for its ability to prevent nausea.
It’s time to play “Name That Drug By Its Side Effects”: chest pain, dark yellow or brown urine, shortness of breath, skin rash, unusual tiredness or fatigue, headache, diarrhea or constipation, flatulence, nausea, and vomiting. Time’s up. The answer: Nexium, the little purple pill. Another FDA-approved product.
Zeese: My name is Kevin Zeese. I currently serve as President of Common Sense for Drug Policy. I left Common Sense to work on the Nader campaign; and I served as his press secretary, and wrote a lot of his position statements. I have worked in drug policy reform for over two decades.
Dean: Kevin, there is a recent Supreme Court ruling that looks like we are in for some change, but just what that change is, I don’t understand. Can you clarify it for us?
Zeese: Yes, it is an excellent ruling actually. I’m glad to see they are going in this direction. My only concern really is whether Congress will try to undo the decision. They did two things in the Supreme Court decision that are very important. One, they required, for sentencing purposes, somebody can’t be sentenced unless a jury is convinced that they are guilty of the allegation. In the past people were being sentenced under the Federal sentencing guidelines for activities that they were not even charged with, and even sometimes when they were acquitted. And the rationale had been that the sentencing phase does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, so if you were acquitted but there was a preponderance of evidence that you committed it, the judge would still sentence you for it. So that was a very important step to return power to juries and make sure people are sentenced for things they were really found guilty of. But the second part is even more important, I think. The second part took the general sentencing guidelines, which were mandatory guidelines, where the judge had to follow the guidelines, and it turned them into voluntary guidelines where they are an advisory to a judge, so the judge can make a decision on his or her own based on the individual facts and circumstances of the case. Now, people should understand that in addition to these guidelines, these Federal guidelines, there are another set of laws called “mandatory sentences.” These are statutory sentences based primarily on the weight of the drug, a person gets a mandatory minimum sentence. And those laws are still in place, so we’re not going to see a dismantling of the harsh sentencing in Federal court. We are going to begin to see a mandatory minimum sentence, and then above that it will be up to the judge based on the guidelines to make a decision based on the individual circumstances of the case rather than to follow these mandatory guidelines which were even harsher than the mandatory sentencing statutes.
Dean: You can hear more from Kevin Zeese on Wednesday and Thursday’s 4:20 Drug War News.
Saya: My name is Gabriel Saya, and I am a policy analyst with the Drug Policy Alliance. The Drug Policy Alliance is the nation’s largest organization working to end the war on drugs.
Dean: As I understand it, there was a recent meeting of state black caucus groups to talk about the drug war. Do you want to fill us in on what that was all about?
Saya: Well sure. Every year there is a gathering of the National Black Caucus of State Legislatures. It was founded in 1977, and they convene once a year and discuss issues that are pertinent to the organization. It’s individual legislators from around the country. This year one of the resolutions that was submitted was a resolution to investigate the real cost of the war on drugs. And the significance of this – it passed unanimously during the vote – the significance of this resolution is that NBCSL has effectively called for an end to the drug war; has come out publically stating that they believe that it’s failed completely, that it disproportionately impacts, negatively impacts, African-American communities across the country; and has laid out a couple or three steps that they plan to take organizationally to change the way that states deal with the war on drugs. So the fact that this organization has come out with this resolution is fairly significant.
Dean: I’ve been saying it for years now, and I think it’s time for you folks to please listen up:
Heath: I’m Steven Heath. I’m with the Media Awareness Project, one of the major projects for drugsense.org. We have two primary functions: one is that we archive online as much or all of the drug news, or opinion-related items to drug news, from around North America and the free world, and a secondary task in addition to archiving all that information is to teach other people how they can use these articles to give feedback to the various newspapers and media outlets about how they feel about the topic. We are able to get drug news and opinions related to drug news out of newspapers and into an online archive on an average of about 12 hours from the time it is printed. Now we have almost 150,000 clippings from the last 7 years and so people, anybody who wants to go online, and wants to know what is going on in different parts of the country or the world about drug news, can find it easily. What we are doing now in 2005 is to reach out more to the community, to our readers, and to people who are interested in this topic of drug policy and how it effects our society, and we are providing them with specialized training so that they can get printed in newspapers, either with a letter to the editor or an opinion column; and also we are working to help them get on the air, whether it be radio time, TV time, with the idea of either a talk show or getting more news coverage in the local news, radio and television, letting the producers of these media know that this is a topic that people are interested in. Nowadays, we find reporters are more likely to understand. What we are doing at Media Awareness Project is we are teaching people how to contact newspapers, radio, and TV. How they can stimulate more coverage of the topic. Our website is www.mapinc.org. They can contact me at Heath@mapinc.org.
Dean: A quick program note for you. Next week, our guest will be Nora Callahan. She’s the director of the November Coalition at november.org, and she is also the publisher of the prison advocacy magazine Razorwire. I want to thank Steve Nolin for being our engineer tonight, and as always, because of drug prohibition, I remind you, you don’t know what is in that bag. Please, be careful.
For the Drug Truth Network, and our affiliates in the U.S. and Canada, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth. This show is produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston. Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.