Steven Hager

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Steven Hager
Born (1951-05-25) May 25, 1951 (age 71)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Occupation(s)Journalist, Author, Documentarian, Podcaster
EmployerHigh Times magazine (1988–2013)
Known forCreating the Cannabis Cup
High Times Freedom Fighters
The Pot Illuminati
SpouseStacy Fine
Parent(s)Lowell P. Hager and Frances Faye Erea Hager

Steven Hager (born May 25, 1951, Illinois) is an American writer, journalist, filmmaker, and counterculture and cannabis rights activist. He is known for his long association with High Times magazine.


Early life and education[edit]

Hager was born on May 25, 1951, in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, the son of Lowell P. Hager[1] and Frances Faye Erea Hager.[2]

While a student in junior high, he established his first publication, the Cap'n Crunch Courier, a humor xerox zine that was given away free. Two years later, while a student at Urbana High School, he created The Tin Whistle, a monthly newspaper that was eventually distributed in four high schools in Central Illinois.

Hager briefly visited Haight-Ashbury in 1968, and the following year he attended the first Woodstock festival.

He obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater (Playwriting), and a Masters of Science in Journalism, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Early career[edit]

After graduation, Hager moved to New York City, and worked for a number of magazines before becoming a reporter for the New York Daily News.

Hip hop journalist[edit]

During this time, he began researching the hip-hop movement of the South Bronx. His first article on this subculture was published in 1982 on the cover of the Village Voice,[3] and was the first time the words "hip hop" appeared in a major publication.[4] Hager based his article on interviews with Afrika Bambaataa, founder of the Universal Zulu Nation, and one of the three original hip hop DJs (the others being Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash).[5]

Not too long afterward, Hager sold his original story, "The Perfect Beat," to Harry Belafonte, who took some elements from it, including the subject and some of the characters' names, to produce the film Beat Street, released by Orion Pictures in 1984.[6]

In 1984, St. Martin's Press released Hager's groundbreaking book, Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti.

Hager followed that book in 1986 with Art After Midnight, an examination of the New York nightclub scene and its influence on artists, primarily Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. (The entire text of Art After Midnight, including the much-quoted Basquiat interview, was reprinted in Hager's 2002 book Adventures in the Counterculture, as well as his 2005 book The Octopus Conspiracy and Other Vignettes of the Counterculture: From Hippies to High Times to Hip-Hop and Beyond.)

High Times[edit]

In 1988, Hager began a long relationship with High Times magazine, as he was hired as the magazine's editor-in-chief. He is most well-known for removing positive coverage of hard drugs (e.g., cocaine and heroin) from the magazine, and instead concentrating on advocating for the personal cultivation of cannabis.[7] Hager became the first editor to publish and promote the work of hemp activist Jack Herer.[8]

Under Hager's leadership, High Times created the Cannabis Cup, a cannabis awards ceremony held every Thanksgiving in Amsterdam; and The High Times Freedom Fighters, the first[citation needed] hemp legalization group. The High Times Freedom Fighters were famous for dressing up in Colonial outfits and organizing hemp rallies across the United States. One rally, The Boston Freedom Rally, quickly became the largest political event in the country, drawing an audience of over 100,000 to the Boston Common.[citation needed] Hager created a garage rock revival band called the Soul Assassins. The band played many of the hemp rallies. Their biggest show was opening for the Butthole Surfers in front of 50,000 people in Washington, DC.[citation needed]

As editor, Hager brought on a friend from high school, Jim Wilson, to become a columnist for High Times. Wilson became known as Chef Ra and contributed a cooking-with-pot article in every issue of the magazine for 15 years. Chef Ra was also a member of the High Times Freedom Fighters and became the featured speaker at many of the rallies.

In 1990, Hager became the first person outside Marin County, California to promote 420;[citation needed] as a result, subsequent Freedom Fighter councils, Cannabis Cup ceremonies, and Whee! festivals were always scheduled for 4:20 PM.

In September 1991, Hager wrote an article in High Times titled "Heritage of Stone," a comprehensive analysis of the assassination of John F. Kennedy that has been widely circulated on the Internet as a definitive article on the subject.[9] The article indicated Kennedy was likely murdered because of his growing opposition to the Vietnam War, and implicated J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles in the cover-up. Judge Jim Garrison cited it as "the best magazine article ever written on the subject."[citation needed]

Hager created the Counterculture Hall of Fame in 1997[citation needed] as part of the Cannabis Cup ceremonies.

In the mid-1990s, Hager turned the membership list of the Freedom Fighters over to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and began concentrating on creating events that advocated the environmental benefits of hemp while also demonstrating the spiritual uses of cannabis. The World Hemp Expo Extravaganja, or WHEE! Festivals, were held in Oregon, Washington, Michigan, New York, and Ohio. Unfortunately, most of the promoters who held Whee! festivals found themselves subject to intense law enforcement efforts to shut down their venues.[citation needed] The primary focus of Whee! was a silent, Sunday, sunset meditation for peace in the war on drugs. During this period, Hager was contacted by the Waldos, the inventors of 420, and became the first person to interview them.[citation needed]

Hager was fired as High Times editor-in-chief in 2003.[10] His 2004 book, The Octopus Conspiracy and Other Vignettes of the Counterculture: From Hippies to High Times to Hip-Hop and Beyond, compiles some of his previously published work; the chapter "Nomenclature of an Octopus Cabal" theorizes that a network of secret societies manufactures war for profit and social control.[citation needed]

By 2005, Hager was rehired at High Times, first as the creative director,[citation needed] and then in 2006, back in the position of editor-in-chief,[10] but by 2009 had returned to the role of creative director.[11]

He was again let go by the magazine in 2013, eventually suing High Times for defrauding him of his ownership shares in the company.[12]

Documentary film work[edit]

Hager learned to shoot and edit video, and started documenting all research on videotape. He has produced several feature documentaries, including Let Freedom Ring, Secrets of the Dutch Grow Masters, The Cannabis Cup, Saint Stephen, The Tom Forcade Story, and The 20th Cannabis Cup, assembling one of the world's largest archives of cannabis-related video.

In 2002 he directed the video shoot that was later released as Live in Amsterdam. In 2004, he wrote most of the narration for a/k/a Tommy Chong,[13] and also appears in the film. Hager appeared in Episode #12 ("Pittsburgh") of the Showtime series Weeds, playing himself at an event modeled on the Cannabis Cup.

In 2007, he produced a reality television show based around his job at High Times magazine.[citation needed] Hager appears in the 2013 film 420: The Documentary and provides the history of the phrase and its ceremonial use, as well as his role in spreading awareness on the spiritual aspects of cannabis.

On April 19, 2021, Hager released his first film in 13 years, Green Easter.

Later activities[edit]

In 2014 Hager created Abakus Media in Denver, published the ebook Cannabis Cures Cancer?, and founded the religious organization the Pot Illuminati.[14]

His essay "The New Pot Enlightenment" was included in the 2016 book Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer's Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally.[15]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hager created a podcast titled Everything You Know is Twisted.[16]


  • Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti (St. Martin's Press, 1984; Smashwords, 2012; Amazon 2014)
  • Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene (St. Martin's Press, 1986; Smashwords, 2012; Amazon, 2014)
  • Adventures in the Counterculture: From Hip Hop to High Times (High Times Books, 2002)
  • The Octopus Conspiracy: And Other Vignettes of the Counterculture from Hippies to High Times to Hip Hop and Beyond (Trine Day, 2005)
  • Looking for the Perfect Beat (Smashwords, 2012)
  • Cannabis Cures Cancer? (30 pp., 2014)
  • The Bitcoin Revolution (Smashwords, 2014; Amazon 2014)
  • Killing Lincoln: The Real Story (CreateSpace, 2014)
  • Hip Hop: The Complete Archives (CreateSpace, 2014)
  • Killing Kennedy: The Real Story (Smashwords, CreateSpace 2017) ISBN 978-1542651585


  • Beat Street (Orion Pictures, 1984; story credit)
  • Chef Ra Escapes Babylon (High Times Productions, 1989; consultant)
  • Let Freedom Ring (High Times Productions, 1990; producer)
  • 8th Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 1995; producer)
  • 9th Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 1996; producer)
  • 11th Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 1999; producer/director/editor)
  • Grow Secrets of the Dutch Masters (High Times Productions, 2000; producer/director/editor)
  • High Times Presents the Cannabis Cup (Koch Vision, 2003; producer, director, writer)
  • Live in Amsterdam (High Times Records, 2005; director)
  • a/k/a Tommy Chong (Blue Chief Entertainment, 2006; co-writer; subject in film)
  • Miss High Times Swimsuit Video (High Times Productions, 2008; producer)
  • High Times Presents the 20th Anniversary Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 2008; producer)
  • 420-The Documentary (Harm Reduction Productions, 2014; subject in film; consultant)
  • Grass Is Greener (Netflix; 2019; subject in film; consultant)
  • When World's Collide (Green Hummingbird Entertainment, 2020; audio interviews with Basquait, Scharf, and Haring)
  • Green Easter (Zero Budget Productions, 2021, 68-minute documentary)
  • History of 4/20 in 3 Acts (Pot Illuminati Productions, 2022, 26-minute documentary)


  1. ^ "Q&A with counterculture enthusiast and alumnus, Steven Hager". The Daily Illini. 2014-10-20. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  2. ^ News-Gazette, The. "Lowell Hager". The News-Gazette. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  3. ^ Hager, Steven. "Afrika Bambaataa's Hip Hop," Village Voice (Sept. 21, 1982).Archived at the Cornell University Library Digital Collections.
  4. ^ Hope, Clover. "Hip-Hop Journalists Host Round Table Panel Discussion,"All Hip Hop News (Oct. 27, 2004). Archived 2006-10-20 at the Wayback Machine Archived at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Peter Gerard (Director) (2004). Just to Get a Rep (Television documentary). United States, United Kingdom: Accidental Media.
  6. ^ Hager, Steven & JayQuan. "THE TRUE STORY BEHIND BEAT STREET," Retrieved Dec. 21, 2022.
  7. ^ "Q & A with Steven Hager, former Editor of High Times," (Apr. 26, 2021): "I understood High Times had lost their way promoting cocaine and other white powders and needed to get back to the original hippie spirit. Coke and heroin were ruining too many lives."
  8. ^ Cizmar, Martin. "The Story of One of the Greatest Cannabis Advocates Who Ever Lived and the Strain That Bears His Name: With the closure of Third Eye, the Potlander wanted to revisit the life of Jack Herer," Willamette Week (April 18, 2017).
  9. ^ "High Times Greats: The JFK Assassination: Why does the blood spilled on November 22, 1963, refuse to wash out of the American imagination?," High Times (Nov. 20, 2020).
  10. ^ a b Bloom, Steve. "My 30+ Years in Cannabis: From High Times to CelebStoner," CelebStoner (September 5, 2020).
  11. ^ McKinley, Jesse. "Marijuana Advocates Point to Signs of Change," New York Times (April 19, 2009).
  12. ^ Russell, Josh. "Longtime High Times Editor Sues Magazine Over Ouster: The former editor of High Times magazine claims in court that he was defrauded of his shares in the counter-culture monthly," Courthouse News Service (January 10, 2018).
  13. ^ Dargis, Manohla (June 14, 2006). "A/K/A Tommy Chong, a Documentary About the Comedian and the Law". The New York Times. p. B5. Archived from the original on August 18, 2008.
  14. ^ "Q&A with counterculture enthusiast and alumnus, Steven Hager," The Daily Illini (Oct. 20, 2014).
  15. ^ Gray, Stephen, ed. Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer's Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally (Park Street Press ,December 9, 2016) ISBN 978-1620555835.
  16. ^ "Everything You Know is Twisted," PodBean. Retrieved Dec. 23, 2022.

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