This article appeared in the Sept. 2017 magazine, which marked the 500th issue of HIGH TIMES.
Over the years, the HIGH TIMES Interview has featured some of the biggest celebrities in the world. While other magazines are happy to provide a platform for celebs to issue promotional talking points, HIGH TIMES has attempted to engage public figures in a unique way. Nuanced conversations with luminary activists, comics, musicians, actors and authors have made the HIGH TIMES Interview a must read.
This month, we’re revisiting some of our all-time favorite interviews from the 43-year history of HT. From well-known chats like our 1976 discussion with Bob Marley to hidden gems like our 2004 talk with Dave Chappelle, these interviews could only be found on the pages of HIGH TIMES.
HT: When was the first time you got high on herb?
As a yout’. Was in de Sixties.
What was the best weed you ever smoked?
One time I was in Jamaica, was doin’ a show, an’ a man come up to me, and he gave me a spliff. Now, das de bes’ herb I ever smoke. Yeah, man! Neva get an extra herb like dat again! No, no no. Just like one tree in de earth, y’know?…
Well, the Jamaican that’s coming into the States now is not as good as it was.
Ya don’ get no good herb because too much sell in Jamaica. And ya find alla people who plant herb fertilize it, so nobody really take care of de herb like first time. Ya use fertilizer, it come quick. Dem fertilize it an’ cut it before time.
Do you guys find it hard to get good herb?
Me fin’ it hard to get in England.
In England they always mix it with tobacco. It’s really foul.
Yeah, man. It’s time to let de people get good herbs an’ smoke. Government’s a joke. All dey wan’ is ya smoke cigarettes and cigar. Some cigar wickeder den herb. Yeah, man, ya can’t smoke cigar. Smoke herb. Some big cigar me see man wit’. God bless! Me tell him must smoke herb. …
Have you ever tried acid?
Me hear ‘bout people who do it. No, me meet people who do it, an’ dem tell me. And when dem tell me, I travel to de same place. I mean, when a guy explain it an’ ya listen, ya can go all de way up to de same place as him.
Who told you about it?
Well, one mustn’t call people names, y’know. What keepeth its mouth, keepeth its life.
Do you think herb takes you to the same place?
I feel like ya ‘ave thousands of different types of herb. If when ya plant it, if ya meditation not high, it don’t come like de right type of herb.
It’s very hard to find the right type of herb.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON
HT: So if you go back and read your stories, a scene where you talk about “tapping the glass” with [Jimmy] Carter campaign staffer “X”…
Right. That means chopping up rocks of cocaine on a glass coffee table or some mirror we jerked off the wall for that purpose—but not necessarily with one of Carter’s people. The whole point of this wretched confession is that there were so many people tapping the glass in the ’76 campaign that you never knew who might turn up at one of those midnight sessions. They were dangerously nonpartisan…
That’s amazing. You were covering this media-saturated presidential campaign during the day, then snorting coke at night with all those hotshot politicos?
They weren’t very hotshot then.
OK. But since we’re talking about drug use during the ’76 campaign, it’s obvious we’re talking about people who are now in the White House, right?
Well… some of them, yes…
The inner circle of Carter’s people are serious drug users?
Wait a minute, I didn’t say that. For one thing, a term like serious users has a very weird and menacing connotation; and, for another, we were talking about a few people from almost everybody’s staff. Across the board… Not junkies or freaks, but people who were just as comfortable with drugs like weed, booze or coke as we are—and we’re not weird, are we? Hell no, we’re just overworked professionals who need to relax now and then, have a bit of the whoop and the giggle, right? …
What is your favorite drug experience?
Well, there are very few things that can really beat driving around the Bay Area on a good summer night—big motorcycle, head full of acid—wearing nothing but a T-shirt and a pair of shorts and getting on that Highway 1 going 120 miles an hour. That’s a rush of every kind—head, hands—it’s everything put in a bundle. Because first of all, it’s a rush, and also it’s maintaining control and see how far I can go, how weird I can get and still survive, even though I’m seeing rats in front of me instead of cops. Rats with guns on…
HT: Do you like to be alone?
Yeah. Very much.
What do you do?
Very rarely take drugs. I don’t like drugs. I think cocaine is a very bad, habit-forming bore. It’s about the most boring drug ever invented. [Laughs] I mean, it’s very bad and very debilitating. I can’t understand the fashion for it. ‘Cause it’s so expensive.
That’s where you spend your money?
No, but I see people that do. I mean, I know what people spend on drugs. I mean, you’ve got to look it up in High Times. It’s a fortune. Grass is a hundred dollars an ounce, a hundred and fifty dollars for an ounce of grass. It’s unbelievable. But cocaine, forget it. Anyone that buys cocaine at those prices… If you want to take it, fine, but if you’re spending money on it, Jesus. What a boring drug.
Do you like mushrooms?
Yeah, mushrooms. Only under medical supervision. No, but mushrooms are more interesting. You really can’t take them like cocaine. I think drugs should only be used occasionally.
You sit around and smoke grass.
Sitting and smoking grass is different.
HT: Maine is a decriminalized state. Do you think that’s a good idea?
I do approve of that. I think that marijuana should not only be legal, I think it should be a cottage industry. It would be wonderful for the state of Maine. There’s some pretty good homegrown dope. I’m sure it would be even better if you could grow it with fertilizers and have greenhouses… My wife says, and I agree with her, that what would be really great for Maine would be to legalize dope completely and set up dope stores the way that there are state-run liquor stores. You could get your Acapulco gold or your whatever it happened to be—your Augusta gold or your Bangor gold. And people would come from all the other states to buy it, and there could be a state tax on it. Then everybody in Maine could have a Cadillac.
I don’t smoke very much marijuana at all anymore, because I’m afraid of additives, which come from decontrol and deregulation. Anybody can squirt anything into it that they want to. And that scares me. I don’t like the idea.
My idea of what dope is supposed to be is to just get mellow. And what I do, if I smoke it anymore, is when I’m driving to the movies, to smoke a couple real quick so I can sit there in the first row. It’s kind of interesting and they have all that good munchie food, too, you don’t have to make yourself.
HT: Your management was reluctant for you to do a HIGH TIMES interview. Did they think it would spoil your image?
Well, “Heroin Quarterly” had me first… no [laughs]. I have no idea what the problem was. I think all drugs should be legal—across the board, effective immediately. Law enforcement doesn’t stop anyone from doing drugs. All it does is make criminals out of them.
Do you think there’s any danger that, if drugs are legalized, corporate interests will take over?
Anything corporate is dangerous and harmful. [Drugs] should all be legal and free. Profit should be against the law. That’ll stop those fuckers…
Tonight’s audience really got off on your drug riffs, but I’m sure you get some negative feedback too.
Oh yeah. What really bugs me is that a lot of people don’t even have a tie-in with alcohol as a drug. I’ve never been attacked by a pothead, but I’ve had drunks scare the shit out of me. Also, it doesn’t always register that people who smoke pot are under arrest in a lot of places and their belongings are taken from them by the government. It’s amazing how scared they’ve made everyone. They can suspend the Bill of Rights and people think it’s a good thing. “Just Say No” is the extent of our drug education in this country. All my friends said yes and I’ll guarantee you we learned a lot more about drugs. Just say yes, and you’ll learn.
HT: Did herb hit you hard when you first did it, as in the movie [Half Baked]?
When I first smoked weed I didn’t like it so much. First time I smoked I was twelve. It didn’t really do anything for me. You hear stories, “I was paranoid, I was this, I was that.” Nothing. Then I smoked pot once in high school. I think the first decent experience I had with weed was when I was nineteen. I started smoking again, and that’s when it was like, “Hey, this is not bad.” By that time the chronic had come out, and I loved it. Half Baked, man, I wrote that movie, my buddy and me did. I was livin’ that lifestyle. I wasn’t just imitating that lifestyle.
Did you have any qualms about making a drug movie?
Oh, was I nervous about it? Not at all. Not at all. I didn’t see anything wrong with smoking pot, you know. I mean, now I’m older. I can see where it can be less than beneficial. I still don’t necessarily feel like it’s criminal. Should Tommy Chong be in jail right now? Naw! I still can’t believe it! I’m surprised you don’t see more Free Chong shirts. You know. This is like crazy! Like I said, I can see where it’s less than beneficial for the corporate schedule. But nine months in Federal prison? For selling bongs?
If pot were legal, would that do good things for race relations?
I think potentially it could. I mean, socially, when I think about the people I have smoked pot with, they are such an eclectic mix of people that I probably never would have spoken to a lot of them if it weren’t for pot. Alcohol doesn’t bring people together like that. You put these same people together, they’re drinking alcohol, they end up fighting. So I mean, do I think it’s the cure-all for America’s problems? No. Do I think this shit is a good way to relax after a stressful day? Sure! In a live-and-let-live society I don’t know if it should be considered criminal. If Tyrone smoked as much weed as he did crack, he’d fall asleep long before he committed a crime. [Laughs]
HT: In your autobiography, you said that marijuana got you off cigarettes and drinking.
Yeah, I knew I was killing myself with cigarettes, and I knew I was really putting myself in danger with drinking so much, so somewhere along the way I decided, “Wait a minute! You know, do what you can do.” In the early years, I drank all the time. Mainly before pot. Up until then, I was into whiskey and uppers. You know, that’s the deal. Truck drivers had the bennies when they made those LA turnarounds, and all that stuff was going around. All the guitar players had it…
You’ve been out front about your use of cannabis for a long time. Have you taken a lot of flak for it over your career?
Zero that I know of.
It’s amazing how you get by.
Well, I got busted…
What’s the difference smoking pot 50 years ago and now?
It costs more money.
People say it’s better now, but I don’t remember not getting high 25 years ago.
No, I don’t either. You know, it’s kind of like sex—there’s none bad, there’s just some that’s better. I think our tolerance is pretty good, too.
I usually stop for a few days every now and then—because I run out.
I intentionally let myself run out every now and then.
A couple of days into that, I usually say, “Let me rethink that decision.”
Either that or one of the guys’ll bring me one and say, “Here, don’t you think it’s time?”
HT: The War on Drugs has been going full swing since the ‘60s. You yourself have been a victim.
Yeah, I was busted in December 1968 in San Diego. I’m not sure it was called the War on Drugs then, but Nixon’s border war had started, and I happened to be one of the early casualties—coming back from Mexico with Vietnamese dope on me. How stupid could I be, right? That’s really dumb.
Anyway, I was facing five to 20 on a federal smuggling charge. It was very scary, and I was in for a while. Finally, I got out because of my father. It was the beginning of the Drug War, which was obviously not working—most of these kids in prison should not have been there. They were young, they were facing long sentences, and it was very arbitrary. That really soured me quickly. With Morrison and Hendrix and Dylan leading the charge in those days, there was a whole new feeling about authority. We questioned it, we fought it—and, frankly, I’ve had my lapses, but I’ve never stopped questioning it.
How would you describe the marijuana experience?
I’ve found it very enlightening. Some people don’t—they find paranoia and worry. I think if you can control your mind, if you contain it, you can make marijuana be a friend, an ally. I wouldn’t do it all day, all the time, because I think you should try to balance your states—but certainly it’s been creative and opened me to new ideas. I’ve abused it at times, there’s no question, but I’ve always tried to be moderate throughout my whole life with everything, trying not to overdo it. Because abuse and excessive use can come quick, especially with substances like cocaine.
Peyote has been valuable, too, in the same way as marijuana. Also, ayahuasca and mushrooms.
HT: Do you remember the first time you tried [pot]?
I don’t remember it as being so extraordinary. I never was a drinker: My body is pretty finely tuned, and I didn’t like drinking because I would just feel tired or not feel well. When I smoked, I remember thinking: “Oh, this is much more my speed. This definitely works better for me.”
Has it been a lifelong companion?
It’s something that I’ve always had around, and I’ve always been with people who smoked. But I went on a major hiatus when my kids were young. If I did smoke, I’d have to really find a time when I could—just for me. It’s never fun being high when you have to pretend you’re not.
How about reading scripts and preparing for roles?
I’ve never worked high and I’ve never filed high. But I’ve read scripts high and gotten a different perspective. That’s the great thing about smoking weed: If you lead a very, very busy life, for me, it really makes the most of the weekend. It like triples your weekends. If you only have certain windows to get high, it allows you to slow down and really be there. it’s really important, because technology has made everybody multi-task: We get so distracted and so crazy, and our relationships are less human and more based on technology. Smoking helps you to connect again—to be present and conscious.
Which issue of marijuana legalization strikes you as the most urgent?
Certainly, the jails being full of people for ridiculous drug-related crimes: If you really want to stop cartel action, then legalize marijuana. I do think it should be regulated—I don’t think it’s a good idea for young kids to smoke regularly while there brains are developing. As I’ve explained to my kids, weed helps you take a break from a very busy life. But you’ll never have a really full life if you’re stoned constantly from a young age.
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