The Strange Life And High Times Of Tom Forcade

Written by BlackbirdGo April 11, 2018
The People

Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.

Tom Forcade wore many hats during his short time on Earth: drug smuggler, political activist, writer, intellectual, self-described "social architect." However, he is best known as the founder of High Times magazine and the father of marijuana journalism. A courageous radical whose brainchild brought marijuana out of the underground, Forcade ultimately changed the way the world perceived the plant.

An Air Force veteran, Forcade used his aviation experience to illegally transport cannabis from Columbia and Mexico to the United States. In 1974, he started High Times due to "a combination of nitrous oxide and fear." Targeted readers had long been criminalized for their cannabis use, and, in return, the counter-cultural magazine regularly published ridicule of the uptight legal and political mainstream -- interspersed with - gasp! - full-page spreads of the illegal drug. Forcade was dedicated to debunking anti-pot propaganda and informing the public about drugs -- first and foremost, marijuana.

In the era of Nixon and the War on Drugs, High Times was nothing short of outrageous (comparable to the effect of Playboy on the nation 20 years earlier). Forcade, however, was no stranger to controversy: before starting High Times, Forcade ran the Underground Press Syndicate -- a network of counter-cultural publications often found to be inflammatory among the mainstream. When testifying during the 1970's President's Committee on Obscenity and Pornography, he threw a pie in the commission chairman's face, exclaiming, "The only obscenity is censorship!"

High Times was initially funded by Forcade personally (after unloading a sizeable import of hashish), but fast became successful and a staple for the pot smokers of America. Its content revolutionized marijuana pop culture: articles written from the POV of drug smugglers, tips on ensuring hashish purity, reports of weather conditions in South America and their effect on marijuana in the US, and more. Marijuana-themed actor and advocate Tommy Chong reflected, "We always knew there were other stoners out there, but until High Times came around, no one had dedicated everything to weed."

Not surprisingly, this dedication to weed quickly caught the attention of government regulators and federal law enforcement. Forcade and the magazine remained under surveillance for years. In 1989, High Times advertisers were raided multiple times, leading to grower busts. Miraculously, Forcade was never arrested for his drug trafficking activities, which he reportedly continued until his death.

Tom Forcade committed suicide in 1978 after a lifelong battle with manic depression. His wake reflected the bizarre nature of his life: loved ones and colleagues gathered on the top floor of the World Trade Center and ceremoniously smoked his ashes in joints. Without Forcade's leadership, High Times lost its direction. By 1980, cocaine began to share almost equal space with cannabis in the magazine.

Eventually, High Times regained its footing and returned its focus to cannabis. Today, marijuana journalism has grown far beyond the magazine's brand, due in part to widespread reform of marijuana laws in the United States. Reviews of marijuana strains and products can be found in local cannabis magazines as well as all over the internet. Despite continuing federal opposition, cannabis continues to integrate into mainstream culture.

Tom Forcade's legacy is one of a man who dared to teach America about dope. He initiated the destruction of the taboo surrounding cannabis and shifted the conversation about its place in American life. These discussions continue today and though oppositions still stand, as the normalization of cannabis progresses, we need only to keep the communication alive. When in doubt, we can all look for some guidance from those who helped to get it started.