In the mid '90s, Jen Bernstein and her friends used to hot box her parents' mini-van, which she'd outfitted with stickers, before they'd go hang out in NoDa to see local acts and "hippie drum circles." At the time, she was a student at Providence High School who loved attending concerts at Tremont and The Milestone. (Fun fact: She cut out ads in Creative Loafing when Phish came to the Charlotte Coliseum and posted them in her bedroom.)
But Charlotte is no longer Bernstein's home. Although her parents live in SouthPark, she's not claimed a residence in North Carolina since she graduated Appalachian State University in 2002. There, she studied creative writing (a high school English teacher had introduced her to Jack Kerouac's On the Road) and pursued a career in publishing.
Nowadays, the 35-year-old identifies herself as "a New Yorker with Southern roots." More importantly, as the managing editor of High Times, a monthly magazine dedicated to all things weed, she's a staunch supporter of legalization, helping to break down negative stereotypes surrounding the green.
Although she smokes, eats and vapes it — not to mention recently getting into cannabis-infused topicals for pain relief — she says she's "still something of a two-hit wonder."
We chatted with the Charlotte-bred weed lover about her journey in publishing, the path to legalization and more.
On how life can come full circle.
I started listening to Phish in around '95, '96, and at the same time also found marijuana and really loved it. That helped me decide what school I wanted to go to. I went up to visit Appalachian State in Boone on a beautiful spring day, and there were hippies on the hill, tossing a frisbee. It was such a gorgeous place that I knew that's where I wanted to go to school. So many years later, I found out that App was named Top Stoner School by High Times. It all somehow came together that I would end up here.
On how she got the job of managing editor at High Times.
They loved that I had managing editing experience, and a masters degree in publishing from N.Y.U. They asked me if I could play softball, and it just so happened that growing up in Charlotte, in 1988, I played for Old Providence and I always played softball either in the fall or spring. So, yeah, I played softball. And they loved that because High Times has a softball team called the Bong Hitters, and they always need women to play because it's a league rule that you have to have at least three women. So it wasn't that I had all of this publishing experience; it was that I could play softball. That's actually how I got the job.
On how Good Housekeeping — where she once worked as editorial assistant — and High Times are similar.
Good Housekeeping is known for its seal of approval that they put on products. They triple-test recipes and they do all this product testing. At High Times, we do the same. It's only with cannabis, or pot. High Times holds Cannabis Cup, where we're judging the best weed in the world. In essence, High Times is putting its stamp of approval on cannabis strains, and we award growers, dispensaries and canna-businesses for their hard work and growing achievement.
On why North Carolina might be hesitant to embrace legalization.
I think it's all about money. I think people love their Budweiser, they love their Miller Lite, they love their PBR. Why is it acceptable to say, "Yeah man, I went to Charlotte Speedway over the weekend, I got trashed, I tailgated, I got drunk," but it's not OK to say, "You know what, I enjoyed a glass of wine and smoked a joint and relaxed at home." There's a social stigma wrapped around being a cannabis smoker. I think that alcohol is big business, and it's big business in North Carolina. When you think about marijuana, it's a new industry, Well, who's going to be making the money when people are smoking more pot than they are drinking?