Buzz kill: Crozet man finds eBay yanks High Times
Super Bowl Sunday left Crozet resident Fred Carwile "frustrated and angry," he says. And not because the Saints won.
That was the day he discovered that his sales listings for back-issues of High Times magazine, which he's sold for years on eBay, had been yanked without warning.
Further infuriating Carwile: He claims that two different eBay customer service reps told him the marijuana-oriented mags were pulled at the request of the federal government.
"The federal government cannot ban books," says Carwile, who notes that the cannabis culture magazine is sold at Barnes and Noble and countless convenience stores across the nation. "They're pressuring a business to ban books."
EBay insists it's always been company policy to prohibit sales of items that "encourage, promote, facilitate, or instruct others to engage in illegal activities," according to Anne Kott with APCO Worldwide, a PR firm.
Yet medical marijuana is legal in California, where eBay is based, and in 13 other states.
"Even though there might be states that allow it, eBay probably goes under federal law," posits Kott, though the publicist-for-hire remains unable to explain the sudden enforcement of eBay policy against High Times, of which there were 600 completed transactions in just the past 30 days.
"I'm not an authorized spokesperson for eBay," says Kott, who had not responded by press time to a reporter's question about Carwile's claim that the federal government had asked eBay to pull the plug on High Times–- or about which federal entity might have such an alleged request.
"I've sold hundreds of these over the year, and then to say it violates policy, to me, it's hypocrisy," says another top-rated power seller, Garcia Santana, in Northern California. "This is selective discrimination. It's sold in every state."
Santana finds it suspicious that the listings were pulled during the middle of the Super Bowl, "when they must have thought nobody was paying attention." And he has his own theory about the timing: "the same time Meg Whitman is running for governor."
Whitman is the former eBay CEO and billionaire now vying for the Republican nomination to succeed the term-limited incumbent, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The state, which already allows medical marijuana sales, may have an initiative on the ballot in November to legalize and tax the plant, but Whitman has said that she's "100% not in favor of legalizing marijuana for any reason."
Neither quasi-eBay-spokesperson Kott nor Whitman's campaign had responded by press time to a reporter's questions about whether there was any connection between Whitman's campaign and eBay's High Times purge, but the policy has clear implications for a seller like Santana.
"I'm disabled," says Santana, who also sells classic issues of Rolling Stone and Mad magazine. "These High Times are highly collectible," he says. "I broke my back a few years ago, and this is how I make my living."
Despite sodomy laws still on the books in several states, including Virginia, eBay still allows the sale of hardcore gay sex magazines–- plus sex toys and bondage equipment in its adults-only area. "Yet," says Santana, "they pull this mainstream magazine."
Rap music, the lyrics of which often refer to violence, homophobia, and smoking "blunts," aka thick marijuana cigarettes, remains readily available on eBay–- as do early discs of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," a song widely believed to celebrate the use of LSD. "Are they going to ban the Beatles?" Santana wonders.
"We've been censored before in other countries," says High Times executive editor Dan Skye. "I've never seen anything like this. It kind of came out of nowhere."
Civil liberties authority John Whitehead says that eBay is free to set policies about what it sells, but the founder of the nonprofit Rutherford Institute is troubled about the allegation of official involvement in a ban.
"If they're doing it at the urging of the government," says Whitehead, "there's your lawsuit."
For Carwile–- a high-volume, high-service "Power Seller" who also moves magazines featuring naked women–- it's the ban on a legal product that's so bothersome. He points out that drug paraphernalia, such as a High Times "tobacco" grinder, is still available. And an eBay search for rolling papers turns up nearly 900 results.
That's a lot of hand-rolled tobacco.
"I used to sell antiques, but this was more profitable," says Carwile. "High Times is about 10 percent of my sales. It's just a few dollars lost to me, but I feel the concept behind it alarming."
High Times editor Skye wonders whether there's a new "sheriff" at eBay. "This," he says, "is kind of like a stone age–- forgive the pun–- mentality."