Still High After 40 Years: Happy Birthday High Times

At 72 this year and still rolling joints and smoking the old-fashioned way, I can say in all honesty that weed has kept me young year after year, perhaps as young as High Times, and perhaps as wise, too, as the magazine itself which celebrates its fortieth anniversary. I’ve watched weed morph again and again, from outdoors to indoors, pipes to dabs, and from $4,000 a pound to $1,400 a pound. In 1975, a year after Tom Forcade gave birth to High Times, I grew weed in a lush garden in Mexico City.

Everybody has his or her pot stories. I have mine. I was 33-years old and probably the only U.S. citizen to cultivate pot in the Mexican capital. Why grow it when it was available almost everywhere and practical dirt cheap as the saying goes. Friends from California drove down, bought pounds in Guerrero and smuggled them across the border, but they didn’t want to go to the trouble of cultivating it in Guerrero or anywhere else South of the border. They’d stop and visit me on their way North. We’d go out to eat tacos, drink beer, smoke weed, get stoned and listen to mariachi bands in the Plaza Garibaldi where expats told us not to go. They always left me with a handful of seeds and a promise to come back and see the crop.

The summer of 1975 was my first season as a grower. I hadn’t read a single cultivation book and I wasn’t in touch with experts on the subject of soils, seeds and more. So the first crop I grew was nowhere near as good as the first crop I grew in California two years later, using the same batch of seeds that the smugglers had first given me. In Mexico City, an old Mexican gardener taught me how to tend the plants, when to water them and how much water to give. Don’t over-water, he advised.  When I first scoped out the garden, the old man also suggested where to put the seeds in the ground so that the plants would receive maximum sunlight. Then, too, he showed me his own garden where he grew marijuana and used the leaves as medicine to cure his arthritis. From the start, I knew that pot had curative powers for all kinds of ailments.

At my pad in Mexico City I would roll joints and smoke the California home grown variety that my friend Bert Schneider, the producer of Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, brought into Mexico in suitcases. If I was the only U.S. citizen to grow weed in the Mexican capital, Schneider was probably the only citizen I ever knew to take pounds of marijuana south of the border not north, in the days before 9/11 and heightened, tightened border control that hasn’t made the U.S. more secure. Schneider never did anything by halves, whether it was traveling with weed or supporting the Black Panthers and the Yippies.

Bert’s American girlfriend smuggled Mexican weed from Zihuatanao on the coast to the capital every month or so. She’d buy a pound, put it in an air tight plastic bag, then tape the bag to her belly and tell one and all they she was eight-months pregnant and expecting to give birth at any moment. No Mexican authority ever asked her to strip. A tall, willowy fashion model and a real pothead, she always had a glamorous boyfriend, whether it was Bert Schneider, or a Paris photographer or one of the founders of the Yippies. Years ago, I’d mail pounds of weed to her in New York from California where I settled soon after my Mexican sojourn. That, too, was before the days of increased scrutiny when tons of pot traveled from California to points East thanks to the U.S. postal service and its letter carriers. One marijuana aficionado to whom I mailed packages would always call and say, “The shipment never arrived” which meant the exact opposite: that it had arrived.

The last weekend in June 2014, I attended the High Times Cannabis Cup in Santa Rosa, California, a town where marijuana has been steadily cultivated since the 1970s and where officials like to pretend that it doesn’t exist. It’s also my hometown. At a booth in Finley Hall, I sold and autographed copies of my book, Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War that High Times published. I met and talked with former students at Sonoma State University where I taught for thirty years and where I did my best to educate students about reading, writing and the reformation of marijuana laws. It felt somehow personally validating that High Times finally came to Santa Rosa and that I was a small part of the show. For the first time ever, I smoked dabs and learned that a little dab lasts a long time. At 72, I’m still learning about weed, still growing it with a doctor’s recommendation and still growing younger, even as I grow older, along with the magazine that first publishing my writing in 1983 and that I still read after all these years. Happy Birthday, High Times.

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