Tuesday was 4/20, National Weed Day -- or whatever you want to call it -- and America's Cannabis Nation celebrated it with clouds of marijuana smoke on college campuses and city parks across the land. This year, 4/20 felt a little different, with attendees buoyed by a sense of impending change and the suit and tie wearing movement worriers a little less concerned about how mass pot parties will play with the public. It wasn't just clouds of pot smoke in the air, but the scent of looming change, too, was palpable.
More than 10,000 people rallied in Denver and another 10,000 or so did so 35 miles away at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Hundreds more at the University of California at Santa Cruz celebrated with a mass light-up at 4:20pm. San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hosted thousands more happy puffers, while in Washington, DC, the party was inside. Well-attended 4/20 events also took place in Seattle and Boston, while smaller celebrations of the stoner holiday took place all across the country, including dozens of college campuses.
In New Hampshire, about 100 people rallied in the state capital of Concord, while in Juneau, Alaska, about 20 people, two dogs, and a mother pushing a stroller braved driving rain as they marched past the state capitol and city hall, chanting "Yes, we cannabis!" Oakland got a head start on 4/20 when the recently opened iGrow marijuana cultivation supply shop held a 4/20 Eve party, complete with a Hummer serving as a smoking room.
Local NORML chapters in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Tucson held events, and the Seattle Hempfest held a 420 Members' Social, while New York City was the scene of a 4/20 rally. The date was commemorated with cannabis competitions in Oakland and Olympia, Washington, and marked by celebrations in San Diego and Los Angeles, as well.
And, as compiled by Celeb Stoner, and suggestive of the growing cultural impact of 4/20, the day was marked by concerts, record releases, and movie screenings linked to cannabis culture. Famous tokers Cypress Hill played San Francisco, while Snoop Dogg played New York, Willie Nelson performed in Topeka, Sublime played in Los Angeles, and Slightly Stoopid played in Austin. Cypress Hill, fellow tokers the Kottonmouth Kings, Devin the Dude, and Nelson all released albums on 4/20.
Pot-friendly comics also got into the act. Doug Benson did a 4/20 show in Minneapolis, Sarah Silverman did one in New York City, and Ngaio Bealum played San Francisco.
Theaters in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC, marked 4/20 with screenings of the "Phish 3D" movie, while in Calgary, Alberta, the 4/20 Film fest featured thematically appropriate films like "Johnny Appleweed," "Blaze," and "400 Bowls."
This year's 4/20 events come as the sense of momentum toward legalization grows palpable, with a legalization initiative headed for the November ballot in California and polling above 50%. (See related stories this issue here and here.) Meanwhile, legalization initiative signature gathering campaigns are underway in Oregon and Washington, so there is a chance the whole West Coast could vote to free the weed this fall.
4/20 also came on the heels of two events, one in San Francisco and one in Colorado Springs, that strongly suggest marijuana is going mainstream. In San Francisco, the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo drew about 15,000 of visitors over the weekend. Vendors there offered up everything from coffee cops emblazoned with marijuana leaves to a 52-foot mobile grow trailer, and a doctor was on hand offering medical marijuana recommendations for $100.
In Colorado Springs, meanwhile, Colorado's first Medical Cannabis Expo was also attended by thousands of people. The Expo comes at Colorado's medical marijuana scene it taking off in ways reminiscent of California's "Wild West" days of just a few years ago and as Colorado legislators work desperately to rein it in. The Expo saw dozens of vendors, including lawyers, dispensary owners, and realtors, and made evident that marijuana is a big and growing business in the state.
While in the past, some prominent drug reform movement leaders have criticized 4/20 and similar events as counterproductive and promoting stoner stereotypes, those critiques were less prominent this year. In fact, at least two reform leaders, Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance and former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition published pieces urging 4/20 celebrators to put down the joint -- at least for a moment -- and pick up the pen. 4/20 is not just a party, they suggested, but a time to stoke activism as well.
"While I certainly wish we could get 10,000 to come out to rally in support of an initiative or a legislative agenda, the reality is that more people are prone to show up when it entails smoking in public," said Mason Tvert of Colorado-based SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation). "It's part of this movement, and it needs to be embraced. These are organic, grassroots events that are growing in popularity and are being normalized," he said.
"I don't tell everyone to light up and get high," Tvert continued. "I say I hope you will show this same level of excitement and enthusiasm when there is something on the ballot. Trying to tell 10,000 people who are using marijuana that they're doing something wrong is not terribly helpful, so I told them to think about how nice it was to light up with that overt fear of punishment and how great it would be if they use marijuana without fear everyday and they should be supporting organizations that will help them achieve that," he said. "With events like this, all we can do is try to ride the beast."
"I went down to the gathering in Golden Gate Park," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "You had thousands of people primarily in their 20s hanging out and smoking marijuana. It was peaceful, friendly, and remarkable diverse, and I think that in itself is significant. There were no speeches, no organized entertainment, just people hanging out, but also making something of a political statement."
The Drug Policy Alliance has decided that the stoner celebrations aren't necessarily are a bad thing, said Nadelmann. "We've reached a bit of consensus that to the extent the gatherings are large in number and fairly well-run, they are a net plus," he said. "But if they're small and scraggly, they're probably not a plus and could be a negative."
Like Tvert, Nadelmann acknowledged the grass-roots nature of 4/20. "The drug reform movement didn't create 4/20, and people are going to gather and do this regardless of what the drug reform movement says. The operative question for us is how to make the most of these events, and we are focusing on trying to turn them into more political events. It would have been nice to have even a few minutes with the crowd Tuesday to get it one step more political."
Even the Marijuana Policy Project, which specializes in working the corridors of power, had little bad to say about 4/20. "Our approach to improving marijuana laws is to take it from a serious lobbying position," said Mike Meno, the group's communications director. "But at the same time, we rely on grassroots support from people who are passionate about the issue, and many of them like 4/20. While we would prefer a more buttoned-down approach, we don't discourage anyone from getting involved in other ways. We just ask that they do so with a focus on what is going to help and improve our chances," he said.
Still, Meno said, those sorts of events can cut for or against reform. "It's sort of a double-edged sword," he reasoned. "It's great if there's a big turnout and people see how diverse it is and how much support there is for changing the law, but on the other hand, if only a half-dozen people show up, maybe it's not the best thing image-wise."
4/20 may have come and gone this year, but the sense of imminent victory apparent at the events will linger into the election season. Next year, 4/20 may be about celebrating the first major step toward national pot legalization -- winning a victory in California, and maybe Oregon and Washington, too.