High Times is preparing to make major moves. The print and digital magazine that has been covering cannabis for more than 40 years recently signed an agreement with United Talent Agency, a global powerhouse that represents everyone from Will Farrell to Mariah Carey.
“We’re moving into the world of entertainment in a big way,” says High Times head of content David Bienenstock. “Looking across the media landscape right now, it’s really obvious that the world is ready to hear a lot more ... in-depth stories about cannabis, whether it’s comedy or hard-hitting news."
The partnership is a first for both High Times and UTA. Never has a major Hollywood talent agency teamed up with a business in the cannabis industry, even one as established as High Times. Similarly, the magazine will be making its first foray into entertainment programing thanks to UTA's vast worldwide network of talent. The deal will help High Times expand its empire to eventually include film, television, consumer products, games, brand sponsorship and more.
Bienenstock declined to reveal what the new and improved High Times will look like but says the partnership with UTA should provide more than a few clues in the coming months.
“They’re going to help us bring these bigger ideas to fruition and create the kind of content that is going to really appeal to a big and underserved audience,” he says.
High Times has been the preeminent source for stoner knowledge since its founding in 1974. What started out as a fringe magazine that covered counterculture eccentricities has grown into a one-stop shop for lobbyists, activists and connoisseurs. Its writers have been at the forefront of legalization efforts and covered the war on weed from an insider perspective. Now, with the national green rush coming to an apex, High Times sees an opportunity to bring its expertise to the mainstream while maintaining a certain kind of street cred.
“High Times brings to the table our authenticity, our experience, our long commitment to the subject, our unique perspective on it, our contacts in a world that is still, in many ways, underground,” Bienenstock says.
Thanks to High Times’ insider status, the company has unfettered access to a world still shy about exposing itself fully to the mainstream. And while outlets such as Vice and HBO are tapping into the nascent market with shows such as Weediquette and High Maintenance, Bienenstock says his brand enjoys a kind of trust and credibility not easily won by outsiders.
Of course, that isn’t going to stop Hollywood from making moves into marijuana programming. Keep an eye out for Kathy Bates starring in Netflix comedy Disjointed, Snoop Dogg making an appearance on MTV’s Mary + Jane and Margaret Cho in Amazon’s Highland.
NBC is debuting Buds in September, while John Malkovich will star in a new drama called Humboldt about a town of the same name thriving on, you guessed it, the weed trade.
“It’s time to push past a lot of the old stereotypes,” Bienenstock says. “It’s our job to evolve along with the culture, and I think the content that we’re planning to create is going to reflect that.”
As states across the country continue to legalize pot for both medicinal and recreational purposes, the cannabis industry is projected to grow exponentially over the next several years. Billions of dollars will be flowing into the private sector, and High Times has a rather personal stake in this transition. The last thing Bienenstock wants to see is Wall Street taking over weed.
He wrote on the subject extensively in his book How to Smoke Pot (Properly). It’s a look at the post-prohibition world where big business is suddenly interested in the marijuana market. What was once reserved for hippies and rebels is suddenly financially viable for anyone looking to make a buck. And that includes tycoons and moguls.
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“The bigger theme is how to maintain everything we love about this culture — the solidarity of it, the values of it, the resistance to oppression and the joys and the friends of this community,” he says.
It's a question that haunts Bienenstock, who has been covering cannabis for 15 years. For much of that time, he worked as a writer and editor for High Times, but he left after 10 years with the magazine to freelance and finish his book. During that time, he watched national attitudes shift. Many of the hard-fought battles within the cannabis community became state ballot initiatives. But with greater power comes greater responsibility, and that point is not lost on the new editorial head of High Times, who returned to the publication last month.
“The question now is, how do we keep pushing things forward, not just with legalization but with creating a more inclusive society that recognizes [prohibition] is a terrible mistake and that we don’t keep making the same mistake again and again in a different way? Marijuana is really a metaphor for our liberties and the ability to live life the way we want it,” Bienenstock says.
UTA declined to comment for this story.