What Does 420 Mean to You?
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 profits. According to a recent report in USA Today, “marijuana stores across the country could sell more than $1 billion worth of cannabis” on April 20. The USA article did not break down the sales by state, product, or anything else; however, I do not doubt the figure. In fact, if you add all sales- state lawful and black market- that figure may be more than double. Today is the day for partaking 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. Like Xmas, July 4, Labor Day, and even Cinco de Mayo, it’s a day for fun. Denver is ground zero, with a literal calendar of events, and Washington DC will host the National Cannabis Festival, but most cities will have one or more celebrations. My home city of Asheville, NC, an artsy, liberal, outdoorsy town will host several events, despite it’s relatively small size (90,000 population) and its location in a prohibition state. My band will play and celebrate 420 tonite (as will many others across town), and there will be events all weekend. These types of festivities will happen in cities, towns, and communities all over the United States. In fact, 420 has become an international day of celebration, with official events occurring across the globe.
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.