MANHATTAN (CN) – The former editor of High Times magazine claims in court that he was defrauded of his shares in the counter-culture monthly.
Represented by the Clancy Law Firm, Steven Hager brought his Jan. 9 suit in Manhattan Supreme Court some six months after Adam Levin’s Oreva Group bought a majority stake in the once family-owned magazine for $42 million.
Hager notes that he had been editor of High Times since 1998 but that his relationship with the magazine soured in 2013. As explained in a recent blog post, Hager at the time was nursing plans to enter the Sundance Film Festival.
Hager’s movie idea revolved around the magazine’s Cannabis Cup — a series of industry conventions Hager claims to have founded — but he says High Times refused to recognize Hager’s ownership rights to footage and video-archival materials that he had been gathering over the years.
In October 2013, according to the complaint, High Times threatened Hager that his shares would be forfeited unless he turned over the hard drives containing said footage.
Dave Holland, an attorney for High Times described in the complaint as having drafted these threats, said Hager’s allegations are full of smoke.
“Due to confidentiality obligations,” Holland said in an email, “I can only say that the matter was amiably and professionally negotiated with Mr. Hager’s then attorney. I look forward to setting the record straight if and when I am subpoenaed to testify in this matter.”
Holland also praised Hager as “a well-recognized cannabis authority, documentarian, and journalist who made significant contributions during his tenure at High Times.”
Hager painted a more acrimonious picture in his complaint, saying he was told that he was being fired for disloyalty, and that High Times would be placing a lien on his eight shares in the company.
Hoping to sell his stock in exchange for keeping his materials, Hager says he lined up four buyers who would each buy one share at $250,000, but a High Times shareholder scuttled the deal by undercutting the price.
Facing “economic distress at the time,” Hager says he caved to pressure from the magazine to sell his eight shares for $400,000.
The unnamed purchaser was supposed to pay Hager $100,000 up front, and then make quarterly installments for five years beginning in January 2015, according to the complaint.
Hager says the deal required him to return any footage containing High Times property but that High Times granted him “a lifetime, nonassignable license to exploit the archival material as [Hager] saw fit.”
Claiming that he fulfilled his end of the bargain, Hager now accuses High Times of refusing to pay him the money he is owed and blocking his access to and use of the archival materials.
Hager says High Times has also mishandled the footage by sending one of his original tapes to filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki, a Guggenheim fellowship recipient.
Hager wants $1 million in damages, but he did not mince words about his position in the May 2017 blog post. “High Times fired me, threatened me with litigation, seized all my archives, and forced me to give up the shares for less than a quarter on the dollar,” he wrote. “And then they didn’t even honor the bullshit deal.”
High Times was founded in a Greenwich Village basement in 1974 by Yippie activist and former drug smuggler Tom Forcade.
As pot-legalization efforts have taken root in the United States, however, the magazine has lost some of its grit.
On the heels of its acquisition by Oreva, whose investors include Denver pot entrepreneur Kayvan Khalatbari and Bob Marley scion Damien Marley, the magazine has reportedly signed an entertainment-licensing agreement with Creative Artists Associates and Emerald Branding. The expansion aims to put High Times on everything from vaporizers and shoes to movies and television shows.
Still cannabis culture is hardly in the clear. Hager’s suit comes a week after the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era policy of federal non-interference that gave states room to legalize marijuana.
In addition to Oreva and Levin, the complaint names Trans-High Corporation and High Times Holding Company as defendants.