High Times Greats: Another Side Of Tom Forçade

A look into the drug-dealing side of High Times founder Tom Forçade.
High Times Greats: Another Side of Tom Forçade
High Times

In the June, 1982 issue of High Times, writer Bob Lemmo recounts his experience buying weed from Tom Forçade (1945-1978), the man who founded High Times magazine in 1974. To commemorate Forçade’s birthday on September 11, we’re republishing the account below.

Tom Forçade dealt pot. More importantly, he loved pot. Sure, […] Forçade had a barely premorbid paranoia quotient—but marijuana, unlike people, didn’t bug Tom, so he often surrounded himself with mounds and mounds of the stuff. Forçade the publisher and Forçade the man, as has been documented many times, was often a crazed, destructive asshole, but I cannot recall a single instance when Forçade the dealer was overtaken by his Captain Bad Vibes persona.

The first time I met Forçade, it was so he could sell me some pot, and the way he went about it shows that the guy had a certain amount of Kool. In 1973, Andy Kowl and Bob Sacks, two personages currently mastheaded on this magazine, and I were publishing an alternative (née underground) paper called the Express out of the town of Hicksville, Long Island. Now Hicksville was nestled deep in the eastern bowels of Nassau County, a land then fabled as absolutely glutted with idle, snoopy cops and as one of the easiest places in New York State to get busted for pot.

The three of us had talked to Forçade a number of times, since the Express belonged to the Alternative Press Syndicate, and when he one day mentioned that he had some great Colombian pot for sale, we indicated our interest. He said fine, he’d run some out to us. The next day he arrived at our office decked out in a cowboy hat and toting a paper shopping bag that was cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die brimming with sun yellow Colombian. We mentioned to him that it was kind of risky toting the pot up from his car all exposed like that, in this neck of the woods. Nah, he said, he hadn’t taken a car. He had just spent the last hour or so on the Long Island Rail Road, sitting with his pungent bag of buds, stopping at every village and burg and hamlet between lower Manhattan and the potato farms of Long Island. Then he walked the half dozen or so blocks from the train station to our office. Foolhardy, yes, but I was not left with the impression that Forçade felt ill at ease around marijuana.

The second time I met Forçade, he sold me some pot and some nitrous oxide. He had a small business at that time, in the West 11th Street environs later to become the first High Times office, selling 5-pound tanks of nitrous oxide which he filled from a 50-pound blue monster tank that dominated his dealing room. This was in February 1974. I remember the date because Patty Hearst had just been kidnapped by some revolutionaries and Forçade’s comment was, “Funny, they didn’t look Symbionese.”

I think the guy not only felt comfortable around pot, he reveled in the stuff and feasted on its presence. Shortly after Forçade started High Times, Andy Kowl and I went to visit him at his safehouse one night. We entered into a small “receiving” room. There were two rooms off this foyer. One was relatively bare, with a few garbage sacks of pot on the floor and a tacky suburban stand-up bar in the corner. Over the bar was a powerful light, used for the inspection of buds. Forçade then led us into the second room, which resembled the Marx Brothers stateroom in A Night at the Opera. The room reeked of fresh cork, which is what the walls were totally covered with. The next layer in from the wall was comprised of suitcases, large suitcases piled on top of each other to the ceiling. The small area left in the middle of the room was filled with a stereo, record albums, TV, food, drink, ashtrays, heavy garbage, dirty socks—in short, all the accoutrements of living. The suitcases—I guess there must have been about 20 of them—were each filled with about 25 pounds of pressed Colombian, and its reek raged in battle with the stench of the cork and its noxious adhesive. It seemed obvious to me that Forçade preferred the claustrophobic wall of pot to the open, airy spaces of the other room.

And then there was Bobbys. Bobbys was Tom’s smoke-easy. It was originally a vast loft on lower Broadway (later to become High Times’ second office) that Forçade had partitioned off into rooms. The center part of the floorspace was divided into eight sampling and buying rooms. Customers would come to Bobbys at finely staggered intervals and, after being let in to the large front room, would be led into one of the eight cubicles. There they would be presented with various samples of pot. After making their purchase, customers would leave at intervals. The variety of the marijuana at Bobbys was a true spice of life. The freshness of the pot and the fact that what was available was always available in weight indicated to me that Bobbys was not far down the line in receiving the new pot in town off the ship, or truck, or plane.

The front room of Bobbys, which faced the street, was filled with huge amplifiers and microphone booms and such, giving the place the look of a rock-band rehearsal space to the casual street observer. The back space of Bobbys was the weighing room where the goods were stored and weighed. This back room is where, after business hours, Forçade would entertain a few people in his court, with plastic bags and safes and cabinets full of hundreds of pounds of cannabis products serving as a backdrop.

Bobbys had a list of rules that filled an 8.5×11 sheet, single spaced. Hours were strictly limited to something like three hours per day. Customers had a specific time to report. You knew not to bother ringing the bell if you were two minutes late. If you arrived on time, but no one answered the bell, you had to come back in exactly ten minutes and try again. People coming by car had to park three blocks away. I was there many times and not once did I catch sight of another customer.

Now, I don’t think that any of this proves that Tom dealt heavy weight. After all, if the United States government, with all its resources, couldn’t prove such a thing, how could I, a mere scrivener? […] If Forçade had the balls to operate a smoke-easy while simultaneously launching High Times magazine, I think he had the intestinal fortitude to fly or float tons of the stuff in. After all, in the times of which we speak the Rockefeller drug laws were in full force in New York State, and possession of anything more than an ounce of pot was a felony. Any kind of bust would no doubt have been enough to nail the guy publishing this here magazine that was supposedly glamorizing drugs.

I’ve never seen a photograph of Forçade posing atop a mountain of bales with his arm around a Guajira Indian, and he never gave me a signed and notarized account of his dealing activities, so I can offer no proof. It hardly matters, anyway, if Forçade’s stories of flying into La Guajira or jumping from the deck of a pot trawler seconds ahead of the cops are true or just Forçade bullshit.

Forçade did sell tons of pot. He loved pot, loved to talk about it, smoke it, surround himself with it. Forçade showed different parts of his complex personality to different people, and I think he chose not to reveal to [some] the extent of his love affair with weed.

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