Cannabis advocates weren’t just using their high holiday of April 20 to light up — they were throwing fundraisers for medical marijuana clubs and planning their next steps to legalize the herb for medicinal use.
Events marking Monday’s International Cannabis Day ranged from concerts to private parties and informal get-togethers at city parks. In New York, High Times magazine threw a bash that included the crowning of “Miss High Times,” while in Oakland medical marijuana clubs held a fundraiser for City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.
“I think it’s a really important moment in time right now for the medical marijuana movement,” said Kaplan, citing recent developments such as the Obama administration’s recent announcement that the federal government would no longer target medical marijuana distributors that comply with state laws.
Cannabis advocates were seeking to capitalize on recent gains that include Massachusetts voters decriminalizing the drug last November. In Illinois, medical marijuana supporters planned to announce Tuesday a TV ad campaign in support of a bill by Sen. William Haine that would legalize marijuana use by patients with debilitating conditions. In New York, Sen. Thomas Duane and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried planned to introduce similar medical marijuana bills Tuesday.
‘It’s like St. Patrick’s Day’
But getting high was also a big part of the annual counterculture holiday, which falls each year on April 20.
“It’s a time for us to celebrate our pastime, I guess you could call it, or adult substance of choice,” said Richard Lee, president of Oaksterdam University, a trade school for cannabis club workers. “It’s like St. Patrick’s Day is for drinkers.”
In Boulder, Colo., roughly 8,000 to 10,000 people came together Monday for a rally at the University of Colorado’s Norlin Quad. Participants let out a loud cheer, and a large cloud of smoke, at 4:20 p.m.
In Denver, about 3,000 or more people gathered at Civic Center Park. Attendees chanted “freedom,” shared joints, tossed flying discs and took in live music and speeches from activist groups seeking reformed marijuana laws.
Stories on the origin of 4/20 vary. But according to Steven Hager, creative director of New York-based High Times magazine, the term originated in Northern California with a group of friends at San Rafael High School in 1971. The friends got a tip about an abandoned marijuana patch and began meeting at 4:20 p.m. to go foraging. The patch proved elusive; the term stuck.
By the late ’70s, people were spontaneously gathering at Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County on 4/20; High Times printed a flier advertising one of the events in 1991. “We recognized right away that this was a ritual encoding of the cannabis culture,” Hager said.
For years, the term was a kind of code — roommate listings might specify “420 friendly,” for example.
But the term, and the holiday, have become more mainstream as more attention has been focused on marijuana issues.
“I knew something had changed culturally three to four years ago when major corporations, like film and music companies began tailoring their marketing of certain products on 4/20,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.)
The medical marijuana movement was buoyed last month when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said federal agents will now target marijuana distributors only when they violate both federal and state laws, a departure from the policy of the Bush administration. Over the past 2 1/2 years the federal Drug Enforcement Administration had raided at least 80 medical marijuana dispensaries in California, where a 1996 ballot initiative made it legal to sell pot to people with a prescription.
Not everyone is a fan of 4/20, however. At the University of California Santa Cruz, impromptu gatherings on campus have become such a problem that administrators closed some campus entrances Monday afternoon, hoping to discourage visitors and reduce the risk of people driving around impaired pedestrians.
They also sent a letter to parents of freshmen.
“Marijuana use is illegal and the presence of so many unwelcome visitors severely impacts the mobility and safety of students, faculty and staff,” said campus spokesman Jim Burns.