Interview with High Times editor Dan Skye
Dan Skye has spent the last 25 years in the trenches of the War on Drugs. As editor of the most influential cannabis publication on the planet he has, since starting with High Times in 1992, transformed into tireless activist with a personal mandate that matches that of the magazine. Skye gets lyrical when discussing the absurdity of prosecuting people for consuming the cannabis plant. On a recent visit to Tweed’s Smiths Falls facility, we caught up with him to discuss the culture’s persecution, Merle Haggard’s pipe and the impending end to the war he’s not yet finished fighting.
A top Nixon aid recently came out and said the War on Drugs was a ploy designed to repress hippies and black people. As someone who has been on the front lines of that war for 25 years, how do you react to that revelation?
I think we’re way past being infuriated over this. The government has been wrong on the issue for so long and a Nixon aid saying there’s been a war on hippies or blacks – there’s been a war on all Americans. It [the War on Drugs] has crossed all demographics. People have been busted, they’ve had their families ruined, they’ve had their lives turned upside down because of this plant.
Throughout your career as editor of High Times you’ve had to give impassioned speeches about prohibition and persecution. Is it refreshing having to deliver less and less of these as we move toward the end of prohibition?
I still have a long way to go. There are four states where it’s legal, so we have a long way to go. I remember a couple [Cannabis] Cups ago, I got so mad at the media. They want all our attention and they write terrible stories about us and they don’t know the issues. The cannabis press, people like High Times and Skunk and Dope magazine, they have to do the job of correcting what the mainstream media does.
Do you feel it's part of your mandate to speak out on behalf of some of the more absurd criticisms levelled at the culture?
I’m definitely a spokesperson for the magazine and I never expected to be in this position. I thought my time with High Times would be very temporary, but I’ve been here for 25 years and I’ve really become a real cannabis activist. Not by choice, but by necessity.
You’ve interviewed everyone from Oliver Stone and Roger Daltrey to Woody Harrelson and Merle Haggard, who passed away last week. What’s been your most memorable interview?
I interviewed Dennis Hopper a few years ago for four or five minutes and he said, ‘that’s enough, you have enough to write a novel.’ So I wrote his publicist, who said to write the quotes and Dennis will approve them. So I wrote Dennis Hopper’s quote. The other was Merle Haggard. I was sitting with the country legend and he packed his pipe and put it down. I reached for it and realized he wasn’t passing it. You don’t take Merle’s pipe!
Print journalism has spent the last decade dying, with nearly every outlet on the planet cutting back copies of their physical product. Yet High Times has been adding pages for years. What’s the magazine’s secret?
Advertising baby. We’re adding pages because we have more people coming to the magazine to advertise. One thing about High Times is we sell a lot of issues but there’s a pass around rate. For every one issue of High Times, five people see it.
Is it true High Times was started as a single-issue lampoon of Playboy?
They reprinted that issue four times. I think it went quarterly for the first year and then by the second year of publication, it was going monthly. Which is pretty damn fast for a magazine that was supposed to be a joke.
“I thought my time with High Times would be very temporary, but I’ve been here for 25 years and I’ve really become a real cannabis activist.” – Dan Skye
Do people forget that High Times is chiefly a political magazine?
We are a magazine of advocacy, but that sometimes becomes adversarial. When the government steps out of line, we like to think we’re there to smack them down. The cannabis community is a very environmentally conscious community. We cover Native American issues, the environment, all kinds of things that our audience cares about.
The evolution of cannabis culture has been hampered by innumerable scare tactics. Do you see those ploys being pushed aside as we move toward legalization?
It’s a matter of education. When people hear 70% THC, they’re thinking hippie crack. I don’t know who first came up with that term, but it’s so absolutely wrong. This is terrific medicine. I talked to an emergency room nurse who handles burn victims and she said it would be so much better to give them a strong tincture of cannabis rather than opioids, so they don’t become pill addicts as soon as they have a horrible injury.
Were you upset at having to move the Cannabis Cup this spring from Denver to California?
We’re going to be back in Colorado, probably in the fall. We had a permit in place but it was a 75-day waiting period and it was too long, which would have taken us past the weekend we wanted to have the cup. So we decided to pull out and move to San Bernardino, where we were already planning an event. Colorado’s been very good to us. We’ve had our most successful cups there, with 45,000 people last year. We’re not done with them.
In 2014 Colorado made $50 million in tax revenue but saved $144 million not prosecuting marijuana-related crimes. Which of those two figures is most significant?
The $144 million used to persecute people and put them in jail. This war is not over until every single person gets out of jail. High Times has three missions: one is making sure all patients have access to medical marijuana; making sure there’s a level playing field for this industry to flourish; and to get everybody out of jail. This is insane that people are spending time in jail for smoking it, selling it and growing it. We have Newsweek writing articles about the last days of prohibition, yet we still have people in jail for this. It’s very disturbing.
While the U.S. and Canada are moving forward on the cannabis file, other countries like the Netherlands are seeing progressive policies trickle backwards. Is this a frustrating point?
Yeah, it’s real frustrating. We had the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam for 27 years and the last time we had it, the city went after us. They just were not going to let us have our expo, only the awards, and so we decided we weren’t going back there. Things have regressed there and the pendulum’s swinging. The Netherlands has always led the world in terms of tolerance and sensible government. They’re really cracking down on freedom.
What’s the best means of rallying against those opposing forces?
It’s been a matter of 30 years – 30 strong years of people getting out there and telling the truth. There’s no magic to this, as we well know. Three steps forward, two steps back. Medical marijuana has been legal in California for 20 years now and yet dispensaries continue to be busted by the federal government, people lose their life savings and their investments, so it’s a matter of just keeping on. I think all cannabis activists know this – you cannot stop and you cannot become complacent.
Here's to Future Growth!
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