High Times magazine is moving to friendlier—and, arguably, higher—ground.
By the end of April, the once-outlaw monthly known for its bud centerfolds and opposition to marijuana prohibition plans to leave Manhattan for Los Angeles.
Lax medical marijuana laws that date back to the 1990s have long fostered a booming, quasi-legal cannabis industry in California. That business is expected to explode next year, when a recently passed referendum allowing adult use takes effect.
The decision to leave its home of 43 years was not a hard one, a longtime executive of the magazine said.
"The center of the cannabis universe has moved to California," said Matt Stang, chief revenue officer at High Times. "New York used to be a liberal bastion."
Despite a thriving marijuana black market in New York City, the inability to legislate from the ballot box the way California does has turned the state into a backwater in the cannabis universe, Stang said.
"Even the medical marijuana law in New York is one of the most restrictive and least helpful to those in need," he said.
It's not clear how many of the company's roughly 30 employees are making the move west, but Stang said the magazine hoped to combine a roster of veterans with local hires.
Founded in 1974 in a Greenwich Village basement by underground journalist Thomas King Forcade, a onetime drug smuggler, High Times was originally meant to be "the Playboy of pot" (hence the centerfolds). But unlike other underground publications of the time, the monthly found an audience and advertising base that sustained it for a long run.
The legalization wave of the past few years has brought a whole new life to the publication. Published by privately held Trans High Corp., High Times does not disclose revenue or circulation figures. But Stang said subscriptions have doubled during the past 18 months, and print and online advertising, as well as its events business, have seen "exponential growth" in the past five years.
The magazine, which routinely ran to 112 pages several years ago, now has 160 pages almost every issue. Both a consumer and a business-to-business publication, it carries ads for seeds and fertilizers directed at growers alongside ads for cannabis products—like Cheeba Chews (pieces of cannabis-infused taffy)—targeting users.
High Times in August signed with United Talent Agency to develop the ultimate product extensions for a magazine: TV shows and movies.
"California is the incubation space where all of these new brands will build themselves up to become national and international players in the space," Stang said. "It's where High Times needs to be as the cannabis movement goes forward."