Happy 420 from Kight Law
Today is April 20, the unofficial (or, perhaps official?) cannabis holiday. From its supposed origins in the early 1970s as the time that a small group of San Raphael high school students who called themselves “Waldos” would meet outside the school to search for an abandoned cannabis grow to its current status as mainstream slang term for marijuana and a worldwide annual celebration, “420” has come a very long way. Although the term has retained its usefulness as a casual cannabis reference in conversation and on a wide variety of marketing platforms, the 420 “holiday” has come to mean different things for different people.
For the cannabis industry, 420 means a rapidly growing global business. Despite what appears to be an industry shakeout across most sectors, from drops in prices in hemp flower to Canadian cannabis stocks, it is clear that the cannabis industry is here to stay. Today is the day to support your favorite cannabis businesses and to partake in cannabis, even if you only do so occasionally.
For cannabis advocates, 420 means civil disobedience. Aside from a handful of people who are provided marijuana by the federal government (I believe the current number is 4), literally everyone who buys, sells, possesses, or uses marijuana today will be violating the law. (Everyone will be violating federal law and many, many people in non-reform states will be violating their respective state’s laws). This is pretty stunning if you think about it. Under what other set of circumstances do millions of Americans simultaneously (and often openly) break the law? I cannot think of any other situation in which this occurs, now or even historically.
For cannabis users and enthusiasts, 420 is a day of celebration. In past years, this has meant large celebrations, concerts, media events, and mass public smoke sessions. In fact, 420 has become an international day of celebration, with official events occurring across the globe. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to most in-person gatherings this year, but you can celebrate at home in the way that is most appropriate to your circumstances.
For patients who use cannabis to provide medical relief, 420 is a day to remind policymakers that cannabis providers are an essential service during the pandemic.
For social justice activists, 420 has become a day to bring attention to the incalculable injustices that people have suffered due to the marijuana policies implemented in the USA (and in much of the world). The so-called “War on Drugs” has often played out as a war on minorities and communities of color. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, over 1,200,000 people were arrested in 2016 for drug possession. Of those arrests, 89% involved marijuana violations. Despite similar rates of usage, blacks and hispanics are incarcerated at far higher rates than whites. In fact, the Controlled Substances Act was created largely as a vehicle to criminalize cannabis. Prior to that, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (overturned as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1969) was created largely to protect the financial interests of magnate William Randolph Hearst and to maintain (if not expand) a powerful law enforcement empire created by Harry Anslinger during alcohol prohibition.
Finally, for promoters of individual and environmental health and of sustainable communities, hemp has emerged as a wonder-plant. It seemingly has countless applications for personal health, green solutions to global environmental issues, and sustainable communities. From CBD to paper to batteries to food to clothing and more, hemp is rapidly pointing the direction to a sustainable future.
So, while the media may portray 420 as a fun, and even laughable, excuse for a holiday based on nothing more than a bunch of people wanting to get high, it’s important to keep in mind that it has rapidly evolved into a multifaceted, global celebration that emphasizes unity, the power of grass-roots advocacy, and a world in which social justice and a sustainable future can be achieved. Maybe that’s “hippie dippie” of me to think and say, but I don’t think so. Even weathered, cynical lawyers can be moved by genuine sentiment and the hope for a better future that, with cannabis, is within our grasp.
April 20, 2020
Rod Kight is an international cannabis and hemp attorney who represents businesses throughout the industry. Additionally, he speaks at cannabis conferences, drafts and presents cannabis legislation to foreign governments, is regularly quoted on cannabis matters in the media, and maintains the Kight on Cannabis legal blog, where he discusses legal issues affecting the cannabis industry. Rod also has extensive experience representing clients through periods of financial distress. You can contact him here.