High Times magazine, America’s pioneering cannabis publication, has been sold to a consortium of cannabis industry investors led by the Los Angeles-based investment fund Oreva Capital. Other members of the ownership group include Damian Marley, youngest son of Bob Marley, and a number of cannabis industry leaders. Writer Ed Murrieta first reported the sale in The San Francisco Chronicle early this morning.
“High Times is the Coca-Cola of cannabis,” new CEO Adam Levin, founder of Oreva Capital, told the Chronicle. “We see the opportunity as a diversified media company, to bring High Times from the authority in the counterculture movement to a modern media enterprise.”
The investor group purchased a controlling interest in High Times, which includes the print magazine, website, Cannabis Cup festivals, and one of the cannabis industry’s most established brand names. The Chronicle put the overall valuation of the company at $70 million.
With Levin installed as CEO it looks as though Oreva Capital will steer the company’s future, with input from a number of investors. In addition to Marley, the new co-owners include Denver Relief founding partner Ean Seeb, MassRoots founder Isaac Dietrich, and Kush Bottles CEO Nick Kovacevich.
The company’s sale comes about 18 months after the death of Michael Kennedy, the longtime High Times chairman, longtime legal advisor, and guiding force.
Founded in 1974
High Times was founded in 1974 by underground journalist and drug smuggler Tom Forçade. After Forçade’s death in 1978, the magazine’s parent company, Trans High Corporation (THC) operated as a trust until 2000 when, according to CelebStoner, the company was broken up into privately held shares. At that point Kennedy, his wife Eleanora, and members of Forçade’s family operated the company, with Kennedy acting as chairman.
High Times was born in the seventies, during the heyday of the glossy print magazine. Rolling Stone, Playboy, Esquire, Sport, Interview, New York, National Lampoon, Ms, and High Times ran risqué pieces on the era’s social and political upheavals, published literary turns by writers like Hunter S. Thompson, and defined the leading edge of American culture.
High Times survived the 1980s and the War on Drugs, but suffered declining circulation in the 2000s as readers drifted online and their attention atomized to everything from cable TV, streaming internet, and video games.
In recent years High Times discovered a new revenue stream in its Cannabis Cup festivals, staging a number of events around the United States and in the Netherlands. In 2015 the festivals accounted for an estimated 80 percent of the parent company’s revenue. The past year has been a tougher go on the Cup circuit, though, as officials in Colorado shut down the massive Denver Cannabis Cup, and Cup events this year in Nevada and Southern California have been forced to go officially “cannabis-free.”
Michael Kennedy’s Loss: Big Shoes to Fill
Following Michael Kennedy’s death last year, the magazine took a turn into lifestyle branding. Eleanora Kennedy, who maintained a large interest in the company, told the New York Times: “We played defense for 40 years. Now it’s time for offense.”
That offensive push included plans for High Times clothing, accessories, furniture, and eventually high-end cannabis consumption lounges. In a New York Times feature published in April 2016, officials at Trans High Corporation envisioned a possible High Times hotel and casino, along the lines of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
That could eventually happen—High Times remains one of the strongest brands in the cannabis space—but so far Nevada’s gaming industry has remained leery of all things cannabis, for fear of running afoul of federal authorities. And the new owners sound like they’re interested in focusing on the company’s existing media and event properties in the near future.
“I see dozens of deals come across my desk every day,” Ean Seeb told the Chronicle. “High Times is an instantly recognizable international cannabis brand. Pairing the name with the strategy to expand both the world famous Cannabis Cup and the magazine was an easy decision.”