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High Times 'Women Of Weed' Fight Reveals Magazine's Gender Woes

A Seattle-based cannabis entrepreneur has accused the industry's longest-running publication of violating a trademarked phrase, but the details of this conflict point to High Times' deeper problems with gender and leadership.

A woman poses for a picture wearing marijuana-leaf glasses during the 9th National Marijuana March from the Casa Rosada, government house, to the National Congress, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, on November 22, 2018. (Credit: Mario De Fina/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ah Warner, founder of Cannabis Basics and Hemp Basics, and a 24-year cannabis veteran, is pushing back against what she argues is High Times' illegal use of the phrase
"Women of Weed" — something she trademarked as the name of her six-year-old private social club for women in the cannabis community.

For the past fourteen months, Warner and her attorney have asked the publication to cease and desist its use of "Women of Weed" for events and promotion. According to Warner, such uses include: a February 2019 party entitled "Women of Weed: An Evening With OG Women," billed as the first-ever High Times Women of Weed event; a prior High Times Women of Weed event in September 2018; and the company's recent (overwhelmingly white, industry crossover-heavy) list of top female movers and shakers in the industry.

After sending cease-and-desist letters to the company and receiving no response, Warner recently escalated her fight by sending a very personal letter to the magazine's editor and (brand-new) president, as well as forwarding it to numerous media outlets. In it, Warner highlights her 20-year relationship with the magazine, including being a subject of their reporting on the industry.

"I'm hurt, and I'm pissed," she explained by phone. Warner said that, unlike Windy Borman, director of the documentary film Mary Janes: The Women Of Weed (in which Warner is featured), High Times seems unwilling to work with her to find a compromise on the phrase.

Warner said that the company did respond after she sent out the letter to press: in short, arguing that they aren't infringing on her trademark because they're using the phrase as a descriptive term "in combination with their very iconic logo," she said. Her lawyer plans to counter that response.

"And they're not celebrating female activists, or cannabis culture; they're celebrating the industry," Warner continued. "So it would make sense for them to use 'Women in Weed'
instead."

High Times did not respond to requests for comment.

Seattle-based cannabis entrepreneur Ah Warner poses with hemp plants while wearing a Women of Weed t-shirt in support of the private social club she founded for women in the cannabis community.

Seattle-based cannabis entrepreneur Ah Warner poses with hemp plants while wearing a "Women of Weed" t-shirt in support of the private social club she founded for women in the cannabis community.
(COURTESY AH WARNER)


Although it's not the most important factor, Warner said, High Times also used the phrase in a sexualized context, which she has specifically opted against in her own work and brands.

"Women have more buying power in this industry, they spend more than men, and if you’re going after the grown-ass-women demographic, you have to be careful with your brand," Warner said. "High Times says they’re trying to embrace women and an older demographic, but in my mind not they're not doing a very good job of it."

As it happens, the model who posed for the image in question — a poster for the magazine's September 2018 "Women of Weed" event, depicting a Venus-like nude figure surrounded by dank green — had a similarly disturbing experience with the magazine herself.

Artist, model, and Instagram influencer Emily Eizen explained in a Q&A for Medium account High Standards (whose profile picture contains a totally clothed woman's back and rear) that when she agreed to the shoot, the photo was intended to serve as the next cover of High Times magazine for an issue dedicated to women in cannabis.

"They weren’t going to pay me but I was happy to do it because it was a huge honor," she wrote. "The shoot itself was great. We had an all-female crew, photographer, and creative director, I felt comfortable, and felt the imagery was tasteful and artistic. They were clear this was for the cover."

Just before that issue was to be released, however, Eizen said she was told by High Times that "the CEO pulled my image because he thought it was too ‘sexual’ and controversial. Apparently [their] stock was about to go public and he felt the company’s search for investors would be harmed by my cover."

"I was so hurt," Eizen wrote. "High Times has had centerfolds of half-naked girls for 20+ years that were tasteless and misogynistic ... It’s disappointing they couldn’t handle a woman reclaiming her own sexuality, but they can have as many naked women as they want so long as it's for the male gaze."

A few weeks later, a magazine representative told her they'd be using her photo at a large event of theirs, at least. But the result was another big disappointment for Eizen:
I arrive at the 'Women of Weed' party where hundreds of people are and they’d blown up my photo to be life-size and cut a hole in my face so people could use my naked body as a photo-booth prop. It was incredibly uncomfortable and humiliating, they hadn’t asked me if they could do that. [And] they had intensely photoshopped my body so that my butt was enlarged and my skin was unrecognizably smooth. It was like they had made me into a Kardashian ... I ended up leaving early because I was so mortified. In the end I made them pay me and I’m not sure I’d work with them again.
Warner emphasized that she doesn't begrudge sexuality in cannabis marketing, but wants to have a say in the matter when it comes to her own ventures. "I really don't have any fantasy that the cannabis industry is going to be the first industry where female sexuality is not used to sell product; it’s just never going to happen. But the issue here is, and I’ve said this before, if you own your brand, you can decide what to do with it."

Regarding her own conflict with the publication, Warner said there are two possible resolutions that she can imagine: either they change the phrase, or they pay her for using it, in which case she'd use the funds for her group's charitable arm, Women of Weed Gives.

"I didn't want to be known as the woman who took on High Times," she added. "But a former writer there told me that this is the reason they get away with things: no one wants to be that person. And it's not an 'us vs. them' issue; there are three women on that board of directors."

She also acknowledged that High Times already has a lot on its plate these days. The soon-to-be publicly traded media company, which was founded as an intended one-off send-up of Playboy in 1974, has undergone various changes and been dealing with other serious legal or administrative issues for several years.

The company has also faced growing demand for a more inclusive but also competitive product alongside newer online and print cannabis publications. Within the industry, unconfirmed rumors have also been circulating that some such publications use a "pay-to-play" model, meaning that featured brands or operators may have paid their way onto the page through advertising or otherwise.

"High Times has got many problems, and I am one of the smallest ones," Warner said. "The more I talk to the media about what’s been happening with me, the more I find out about what’s happening with High Times."

"My hope is that this new president can bring some kind of moral compass to what’s going on there."
A woman smokes two joints during a global Marijuana March rally demanding the plant's decriminalization, in Medellin, Colombia on May 4, 2019. (Credit: JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)

A woman smokes two joints during a global Marijuana March rally demanding the plant's decriminalization, in Medellin, Colombia on May 4, 2019. (Credit: JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)

[source: forbes.com / published: May 15. 2019]
 

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