Heady days as High Times turns 40

At a time when the magazine industry is struggling to stay afloat and only a tiny percentage of Americans say they still regularly read magazines, one publication hasn't just survived for the past four decades -- it's actually flourishing.

High Times, the magazine that's all about marijuana, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in September, and editorial director Dan Skye sounds elated.

"In the publishing industry ... so many magazines have gone under, literally thousands of magazines have gone under, and we are thriving," he says. "It took a long time to get to the kind of recognition that we're getting right now."

High Times' circulation and advertising statistics are certainly enough to turn many other magazine staffs envious. According to Skye, the publication began the year coming in at 120 pages per edition, but that's now up to 156. And while the company prints 200,000 copies each month, High Times says each copy has a "pass-around rate" of 5 to 1.

"That means for every one issue, five pairs of eyes are seeing this," Skye notes. "So we have tremendous reach now."

Online, the magazine's digital presence is also a growing force. Its Facebook page has close to 4 million "Likes." And in June, HighTimes.com reached a record 5 million unique visitors.

"The cannabis industry is coming to us in full force, advertising in our magazine," Skye notes, "because they know of our clout."

Kind of ironic, when you consider that High Times was thought of as quite shady when it was first published in 1974. It was the kind of publication that most stores kept (and in some places, still do) with the sex magazines.

"The fact is, High Times has always been an outlaw magazine," says Skye, "and we're by necessity a political magazine, because we are challenging the government's position on cannabis."

But the government's and the nation's changing approach to marijuana has also contributed to the magazine's vitality. At least 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, while earlier this year Washington State and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana for adults.

As the cannabis industry emerges from its outlaw past, it has been attracting a growing interest from mainstream Americans in some unexpected ways. The May issue of High Times, for example, featured an interview with John Stossel of Fox Business Network.

The mainstream media is also taking notice of the public's growing appetite for information on cannabis, and some media executives are becoming part of the new "cannabis journalism." Earlier this month Marijuana.com announced that former NBC News senior editor Al Olson would be joining the cannabis news website as managing editor.

"With the recent adoption of medical and recreational legalization nationwide, we're seeing a greater need for accurate and consistent marijuana coverage," Weedmaps CEO Justin Hartfield said in a press statement. Weedmaps, an online legal marijuana industry review site, owns and operates Marijuana.com.

Skye says part of the High Times circulation bump comes from the growing number of people looking for reliable information on medical marijuana. But he believes his magazine's long-standing respect for its audience -- and their passion about marijuana -- has helped keep readership growing.

"It's always so funny when people find out High Times has been around for 40 years," says Skye. "And people who are just beginning to find out about cannabis ... they're absolutely blown away that a magazine has been doing this, all these years."