'High Times' Gets New President and CEO

High Times, the iconic magazine devoted to the world of cannabis, is getting a new president and CEO with the appointment of David Kohl to lead the company.

Kohl succeeds founder Michael Kennedy, who is moving to the position of chairman at the New York-based publisher after leading the business for 41 years.

Before joining High Times, Kohl was the founder and CEO of K2 Advisors, a strategic advisory form that consulted for brands including Microsoft’s Xbox and NBCUniversal, as well as startups and investment groups.

The leadership transition comes as High Times seeks to grasp unprecedented opportunity, thanks to the loosening of marijuana laws across the U.S., but also faces a wave of competition from newcomers hoping to cash in on the marijuana boom expected to follow liberalization.

That paired chance and challenge poses the question of whether, and how High Times should re-position itself to serve its audience in an era when marijuana is going mainstream.

For most of its existence, High Times has been a counterculture publication, not exactly underground (you could find it on most big newsstands) but definitely not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination; Family Circle it was not. That editorial approach was the logical reflection of the magazine’s mission, which at the end of the day, or indeed the beginning, was basically encouraging and enabling an illegal activity.

As the magazine’s Web site notes: “The roots of High Times magazine are intertwined with the punk movement. Tom Forcade, the founding publisher, fully agreed with the punk movement’s founding principle: ‘Do what you want to do and fuck anybody who tries to stop you.’” 

And there you have it. The editorial style, mingling humor and profanity as it dispensed grow tips and criticized drug laws, was spot on for an audience that was by definition anti-establishment. It also informed the High Times’ key event series, The Cannabis Cup, which draws approximately 500,000 attendees around the world, giving growers a chance to show off their best strains.

But now that marijuana is fully legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington states, and legal for medical use in over a dozen more, it’s moving out of the realm of the edgy to the everyday.

New marijuana media companies are popping up everywhere. Just last week, Snoop Dogg announced the launch of Merry Jane, a digital multimedia platform; last month, the publishers of The Tasting Panel and The SOMM Journal launched The Clever Root, a new quarterly magazine about the world of “growables,” including cannabis.

All this presents High Times with interesting choices in a couple areas.

For one thing, much of its coverage was focused on helping people grow their own weed. Now that it’s available at the corner shop in some places, is marijuana becoming more of a commodity -- admittedly one distinguished by strains and quality -- but in any event just another easily purchased retail item, like wine? In that case the rationale behind growing your own begins to make less sense, considering the expense and effort involved.

So should High Times re-position itself as less a technical manual with horticultural tips, and more of connoisseur’s guide and lifestyle magazine – and less of a bohemian lifestyle at that? Or should it double down on the cultivation angle, in order to distinguish itself from more lifestyle-oriented newcomers?

Only time will tell, but Kennedy may have been hinting at a new direction in his announcement of Kohl’s appointment, when he seemed to suggest some changes are afoot to keep High Times ahead of the game: “He knows how to lead and build successful media and lifestyle brands because he sees around corners and delivers excellence, both to audiences and advertisers.”

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