- Cannabis media companies from legacy outlets like High Times to digital outlets like Leafly are facing a reckoning from the triple whammy of the economic fallout of the pandemic, a downturn in the cannabis industry, and a broader media implosion.
- Cannabis outlets have been forced to cut costs by suspending print, laying off employees, and scaling back acquisitions and growth plans.
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Cannabis media companies from the old guard like High Times to the digitally native are facing a reckoning, as the economic fallout from the pandemic adds to their woes.
This year, at least five cannabis-media firms have laid off dozens of employees, and also taken steps to rein in spending like suspending print magazines, and cutting freelance budgets and travel costs. That adds to a cannabis-industry downturn that began in late 2019, as companies were forced to cancel deals, lay off thousands of employees, and fire executives.
To be sure, there’s a slew of cannabis-specific media outlets that are thriving and even growing, WeedWeek, and Marijuana Moment among them. Plus, mainstream news outlets from Politico to the Boston Globe are beefing up their cannabis coverage, as is Business Insider.
But many cannabis media companies are contending with a broader digital-media downturn, economic uncertainty due to the pandemic, and a slump within the cannabis industry itself.
While cannabis media publications admittedly serve a niche audience, the way cannabis is covered in the media is a barometer for how society’s views have shifted on the drug, from being a “punchline” in the mainstream press to covered like any other multi-billion industry, said Andrew Matranga, an associate teaching professor at the University of Denver’s media, film, and journalism program.
“The beauty of where we’re at is that general publications are covering cannabis like any other business,” he said. “It’s moved from the punchline to the lede, it’s the peak of normalization.”
High Times — perhaps the grandfather of cannabis media, founded in 1974 — has not produced a print magazine since April, and has laid off the majority of its editorial staff, according to multiple media reports. The laid-off staffers include longtime writer Danny Danko, among other notable employees. Four former employees have created a competing publication, Northeast Leaf.
For niche cannabis publications, Matranga says that outside of a few examples, it’s “the beginning of the end.” As for High Times specifically, Matranga said the “writing on the wall has been there for a long time,” as the general public’s perception of cannabis has moved past dated cultural tropes.
High Times was not immediately available for comment.
High Times’ owner, Hightimes Holding Corp., has also laid off staffers at the Seattle-based DOPE Magazine, which it acquired in 2018, and put the rest of DOPE’s staff on furlough until “the virus passes,” Hightimes Holding Executive Chairman Adam Levin said in a statement to Marijuana Moment. DOPE Magazine has suspended publication, and another Hightimes Holding acquisition, Culture Magazine, put its remaining employees on furlough and suspended publication as well.
On top of that, High Times had attempted to branch out into branded retail stores by acquiring 10 California dispensaries from Harvest Health & Recreation, though the deal hasn’t yet closed.
In recent months, Hightimes Holdings had planned an initial public offering, though the Securities and Exchange Commission forced the company to halt the planned offering as it missed a deadline to file its audited financial report.
The company was pursuing a Regulation A IPO, which allows private companies to raise up to $50 million from the general public.