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An investment group that includes legendary ganja guru Bob Marley's son has bought a controlling interest in High Times, the magazine that for decades has separated the stems and seeds from the leaves when it comes to showing people the best ways to grow, roll and consume the finest blends of marijuana.
Damian "Junior Gong" Marley, whose forthcoming reggae album is appropriately titled "Stony Hill," is one of 20 investors who announced Thursday they have acquired 60 percent interest in Trans-High Corp., owner of High Times, its digital platforms and its popular Cannabis Cup trade shows.
THC (the acronym is the same as that of marijuana's key ingredient) will be renamed High Times Holding Co.
"It's an exciting day," said Adam Levin, the company's new CEO. "We have really the largest brand in cannabis, really the trusted brand, that we've been able to acquire at a time when obviously legalization trends are burgeoning and the industry as a whole is exploding."
The purchase price wasn't revealed but Levin, whose Los Angeles-based investment firm, Oreva Capital, put the deal together, said the company is valued at $70 million.
With marijuana legal in some form in 26 states and the District of Columbia, Levin and his partners believe it's the perfect time to acquire the company with a mainstream brand name and a colorful reputation.
They could be right, says Gabriel Kahn, an expert on changing media trends and a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
"The marijuana business is increasingly becoming professionalized and mainstream," Kahn said. "That opens up a space for a news outfit to lay claim to being the voice of the industry and establish credibility. Any publication that can pull that off can create a lasting business."
Although High Times has competitors, Levin says he's confident it will prevail because of its reputation.
Ellen Komp, deputy director of the California's chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, agrees the magazine has credibility in the pothead community.
"I respect their reporting," she said. "Their editors have been more aggressive about fact-checking than other cannabis publications."
While many magazines have struggled in recent years, High Times says it has retained a loyal print subscriber base of more than 200,000 with millions more following it online.
A recent edition contains such consumer-friendly stories as where to find the most reasonably priced pot and how to prepare the tastiest edibles. Other stories offer tips on growing and pot-related political news.
Perhaps High Times' most lucrative source of income, however, is its Cannabis Cup trade shows. What began as a single, somewhat clandestine meeting in an Amsterdam hotel room in 1988 has grown to 11 events this year. One is scheduled for this weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Southern California in February attracted 25,000 people.
Levin sees expanding those shows to include such possible revenue sources as concerts and clothing lines.
That's a dramatic change from the early years of a magazine founded in 1974 by Tom Forcade with seed money he'd made from selling drugs. In the early years High Times was often sold in the same plastic bags newsstands used to shield the covers of porn magazines.
After Forcade killed himself in 1978, The New York Times reported that staffers carried his cremated ashes to the top of New York's World Trade Center and smoked them.
"It was much more of a crazy, burgeoning pot smuggler magazine when it originated," Levin acknowledged Thursday.
But he added it's become the trusted brand of cannabis lovers.
"We're the Wine Aficionado of the cannabis industry," he said, referring to the popular wine magazine.