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Cannabis Journalists

Marijuana Media’s Anti-Hero Mike Adams Looks Beyond the Weed Beat

November 24, 2020

Q&A with Cannabis Journalist Mike Adams

Editor’s note: Grasslands’ Cannabis Journalist Q&A blog series—introducing us to some of the most important and dedicated journalists on the beat—is curated, reported and written by Oakland-based journalist Ellen Holland, former Senior Editor of Cannabis Now magazine, San Francisco Chronicle freelancer and Chief Editor of multiple Ed Rosenthal books, including The Big Book of Buds Greatest Hits and This Bud’s For You.

Mike Adams doesn’t care if you like him. 

Often brash, with an in-your-face delivery, Adams is following the path of irreverent and hallowed counterculture writers of days past—think Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski—the ones who can’t always reel in their feelings to spare you from the reality of the rage.

Adams knows he doesn’t necessarily fit into the mold of other journalists working to cover the cannabis industry, and he’s made a concerted effort to break away from what he feels is an otherwise pretty bland scene. Regardless of an all-out dedication to a lifestyle that screams rebel, Adams gained a reputation as one of the most solid writers in the space. Whether he was writing for High Times, Forbes or Cannabis Now, Adams has been able to produce well-analyzed articles at a pace that would crush most writers, and did consistently crush search-engine page rankings.

Adams never set out to be a cannabis writer. Around 2013 he started to pick up some culture writing assignments for Townsquare Media, a radio group in his hometown of Evansville, Indiana. Eventually his writing got noticed by the national team and was syndicated to hundreds of radio stations across the United States. From there he started writing for the sports-and-culture website BroBible and then Playboy.       

“I did an interview with Tommy Chong for Playboy. However, we didn’t talk a lot about weed. We discussed his time in prison, sex escapades on the road in his early years with Cheech (Marin, the other half of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong), and a bunch of other stuff. I was one of the first, if not the first, to learn how he helped Jordan Belfort write the book The Wolf of Wall Street while they were locked up together. He also told me about how he and Cheech were busy writing Up in Smoke II, or Up in Smoke: 30 Years Later, and shared a bunch of other details that I hadn’t seen anywhere else on the internet. I had the exclusive. And I felt like it was all time-sensitive material. It needed to publish, like right away. Unfortunately, the editor I was working with at Playboy had to take a temporary hiatus because her father was ill, so web posts were getting pushed back weeks, even months. So, they gave me permission to publish the piece elsewhere, and I immediately thought of High Times.”

Adams says he wasn’t trying to orient his career toward cannabis writing, but rather, had an exciting story and needed an open-minded publication to run with it. At the time, he considered if his literary heroes Thompson and Bukowski had written for High Times, he should too. After picking up the Chong piece, High Times offered him a regular freelance gig.

“I know this probably isn’t the thing to say in an interview for Grasslands, but my decision to write for High Times had nothing to do with my love of the cannabis plant or my dedication to furthering the movement,” Adams says. “I didn’t give a shit about that, not really. Don’t get me wrong. I was, and still am, in favor of legalization. I just wasn’t the hellbent activist that some of these writers seem to be. Honestly, we didn’t know what legalization was going to look like at the time. No states had done it yet. Colorado was pushing for it, but the concept of a cannabis industry was far from being realized. 

“Personally, I was still in the outlaw mindset. I hated cops, always will, and wanted to use my life experience to teach the younger generations how to avoid getting harassed or busted by the police. I also wanted to share humorous tales about life as a pothead, make some people laugh, and do what High Times writers were doing back in the early days. Many of the folks working at High Times back then were from the crew of the early 1990s, so they were still writing in such a way that aimed at helping people break the law. We were a perfect match. Just a bunch of hell raisers having a good time.”

It didn’t take long to realize not every reader appreciated his voice as he started to get complaints about his language. Then, when he picked up writing gigs at Cannabis Now and Merry Jane he faced something totally foriegn: The publications requested he push away from using words like “pothead” and “stoner.”   

“They wanted me to use verbiage like ‘cannabis enthusiast’ and ‘connoisseur’ and all of that uppity shit,” Adams says. “It was weird.”

Adams eventually found himself as a columnist at Forbes, but says his relationships there were like oil and water. His time at Forbes is the foundation for his new book, Marijuana Misfit: Two Years of Terror. These days, untethered from his cannabis gigs by the coronavirus, Adams is currently writing for Hustler magazine and says he doesn’t know if he’ll ever get back to writing about weed.

Your articles consistently appear at the top of SEO rankings (search engine optimization). What is your strategy for choosing topics to write about? 

“Yeah, it’s a talent, I guess. Or maybe it’s just luck. I don’t know. I think a lot of what makes me successful or good at picking out topics that do well on the web is that I’m not insanely invested in the cause like many other cannabis journalists. I’m not out here trying to change the world. Some of them chase stories because they feel very strongly about the issue, what’s happening, and hope their words will lead to a metamorphosis. I never do that. I just don’t care enough. 

“What I do is I pick stories that I think will be fun to write and that I believe will entertain the reader. That’s basically it. Or if there is a shit-stirring element to a story, I’ll go with that. Those are always attractive to me. I suppose it’s a gut feeling. When I get a sense that a story will serve both you and me, that’s how I know it will do well for the publication. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I just know that certain angles will always do well. Stories that predict the legalization of marijuana at the federal level are sure things. People eat that stuff up. Meanwhile, articles about how cannabis fields are harming the environment or anything involving regulations are all dead dogs. No one really gives a damn about any of that.”

How has cannabis shaped you as a writer? 

“I’m not sure that it has. I know that’s not necessarily what you want to hear, but it’s true. If anything, I think being lumped into the classification of a ‘cannabis writer’ has done me more harm professionally than good. After all these years doing this job, I’ve become stereotyped as a ‘weed writer,’ which has made it harder for me to branch out and do other things. And there has always been more to what I do than marijuana. 

“The whole COVID thing was a blessing and a curse. As soon as that sucker hit earlier this year, every single cannabis publication that I was working for cut me loose. The bad news was that I was penniless and borderline homeless at times. The good news is that eventually, I found that not writing about weed every day gave me the freedom I needed to refocus my career. I used some of the COVID-45 downtime to put together my new book Marijuana Misfit: Two Years of Terror, and then spent the rest of it searching for new gigs. Admittedly, I was so desperate in the very beginning that I actually reached out to some of the cannabis publications that had asked me to write for them in the past, but none of them were signing writers. All of them were flat broke. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll go back to it either. Everything worked out the way it was supposed to. I recently signed a nice deal with Hustler magazine, and I’m still writing a few columns a week for the men’s culture site BroBible

“I’m not saying that I won’t eventually do some marijuana-related stories, but I don’t have the motivation for that right now. I was pretty burned on it there toward the end. That happens to the best of us. But usually, your brain will start to edge you back into it after it’s had time to reset. That hasn’t happened for me yet, which is probably a good indication that it’s not going to. And I’m okay with that. However, if there is one positive that came from falling into the cannabis scene, it’s that it has made me a better writer—it allowed me to get back to basics. I mean, writing countless news articles every week for every weed publication under the sun is excellent practice. That’s worth something. It served its purpose, and now I’m onto new things.”

Why have you decided to never write product reviews? 

“Ugh, that’s just not for me. As I mentioned before, I never set out to be a cannabis writer, and I damn sure never saw myself as the guy who covers pot products. Never in a million years did I think that I’d enjoy doing that. I never even considered it. Honestly, that’s the kind of content that Forbes wanted me to do. They wanted lists of the top best CBD oils, the trendiest smoking devices, and all of that other crap that I didn’t care anything about. I fought them tooth and nail on it and just wrote what I wanted. And, in doing so, I filled a void that no other weed writer was touching. All of them were busy giving readers false hope and really just regurgitating the same stories over and over again. I mean, how many times can we get excited about the renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment or whatever it’s called now? How many times can we possibly get people fired up over a banking bill that passes the House but dies a miserable death in the Senate? 

“I was sick of that shit, so that’s what I wrote—how none of the puff pieces people were reading were accurate, how legalization wasn’t happening anytime soon, and why. Some people appreciated it. Others were offended that I would dare be so pessimistic. But at least it was honest writing. I’d rather someone give it to me straight than feed me a heaping pile of horse crap. So product reviews really never fit in with where I was heading with my cannabis reporting. My thing was more about blowing ‘their thing’ to smithereens. Fortunately, even though I’m no longer with Forbes, many of those controversial columns have been preserved in my book Marijuana Misfit: Two Years of Terror. I hope that all of the weed writers who actually enjoy doing product reviews will take a peek at the book and give it some attention. Because Mikey needs the money.”

Where do you see the cannabis conversation going next? 

“The conversation? Hmm. Haven’t we done enough talking? I mean, really, it has been decades. I’m not sure where the conversation is going, but you can bet that it will be all over the place. No, I didn’t come up with this using my trusty Ouija board. The scene is just that obvious. It’s schizophrenic at best. It is so split and sideways that the conversation can’t go in any one direction. Everyone wants something different, and even if they want the same thing, they have conflicting ideas about how that should happen. That’s why nothing ever gets accomplished. We’ve got too many monkeys humping the football. 

“But if I had to make a guess, I’d say legalization nationwide is the best bet at getting the masses to come together. But there’s still a lot of debate on how or if that should even be done. … We’re also going to hear more from the industry. A lot more. If you think that weed is mainstream now, just wait. The fight for legal weed in the United States will become more centered on establishing a taxed and regulated market, and if we’re lucky, that will happen in a few years. But lawmakers are still going to be weird about it for a while. All I can say is, y’all have fun with all of that. I’m going to be over here doing something totally different.”

Find cannabis journalist Mike Adams on Twitter @mikeadams73

About Ellen Holland

Ellen Holland has spent years writing, editing and commissioning cannabis news as the former senior editor of Cannabis Now Magazine. She edits books focused on marijuana cultivation and strains and has been featured as a panelist at events such as SXSW and the New West Business Summit. Interviewed on KPFA, the first listener-supported non-commercial radio station in the U.S., Holland has also contributed to publications including the San Francisco Chronicle and Alternet.