Mar 17, 2012 6:19 PM EDT
For almost forty years, High Times magazine has been the premier advocacy rag for marijuana, serving the passionate smoker much as Fox News and MSNBC serve the partisan political junkie. But in their effort to push out “the word of marijuana … the word of legalization … the word of growing,” as managing editor Natasha Lewin has put it, magazine staffers (and one can confidently say readers too) have inevitably pushed up against the law. Some are not just blowing smoke, but smuggling and dealing it too. Sometimes by the ton.
The latest alleged High Times trafficker is Matthew Woodstock Stang, known as “Magazine Guy” in the marijuana underworld. By day he’s employed as an advertising executive and senior writer for the magazine; by night, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, he’s a wholesaler in one of the city’s largest and longest-running marijuana rings.
This week his alleged partner, hip-hop magnate Kareem “Biggs” Burke, pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of conspiracy to distribute some 200 pounds of marijuana. Stang, meanwhile, still faces the much more serious charge of wholesaling multiton loads of pot, most of it grown indoors near Miami and trucked to a New York kingpin. If convicted, he faces 10 years to life in prison. As one federal agent said when Stang was first arrested in 2010, it’s “a case of art imitating real life.”
It’s also a case of history repeating itself. High Times was founded by a smuggler named Gary Goodson, a.k.a. Tom King Forcade, who over the years he has been described by his magazine as an “ace in the dope air force” and a “drug-culture mastermind.” He was certainly the latter. Within two years of High Times debuting in 1974—complete with centerfolds of flowering marijuana plants and prices for every kind of pot on the market—Forcade had as many as four million readers a month.
His smuggling, however, was woefully inept. In 1976 he secured a nine-ton load of marijuana that a friend had smuggled into Florida’s Everglades. But he neglected to hire help, which resulted in him taking 24 hours to load the bales into his Winnebago, which was then spotted by a wildlife officer. Police soon blocked the only road to Miami, forcing Forcade to jerk the camper into the swamp. He emerged undiscovered but mosquito-mauled three days later, determined to liquidate High Times—presumably to cover his loses.
Talked out of doing so by friends, Forcade returned to smuggling in 1978. The job called for a pilot to fly to Colombia, pick up a marijuana load, and kick it out over a remote location in southern Florida. Everything worked perfectly until Forcade, who was guiding the first plane to the drop point, radioed instructions for the pilot to “Get lower! Get lower!” The pilot got lower, hit a tree, and died. The gang lost its load.