Every April, the internet and magazines flood with an increasing number of articles decoding the secret meaning behind the number 420. While some say it refers to a section of the California penal code regarding marijuana (it does not), or that it marks the death anniversaries of musical greats Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix (wrong, again), most agree it started with a group of San Rafael High School students in California. According to legend, the group used 4:20 pm as a meeting time to smoke joints and wander out in search of a cannabis crop rumored to be hidden near the school in the early 1970s. The group—self-named “The Waldos”—soon started to use 420 as a reference to all things cannabis.
Eventually, the term was popularized by The Grateful Dead who frequently performed in the same region of California. The term was later immortalized as a symbol of cannabis culture when High Times magazine picked it up in the 1990s. Still, none of that really answers the question—what are we celebrating on April 20? Is it the plant itself? The ability to roll giant joints and take lung scorching bong rips? Waiting in line for cannabis dispensary sales akin to those of Black Friday?
Here in Denver, April 20 is famously celebrated with the 420 Rally at Civic Center Park. Started by one of our nation’s boldest and most unconventional marijuana activists, the late Ken Gorman, the Denver 420 Rally was an act of civil disobedience and tool for social progress. It stepped into the faces of politicians and government agencies to say, “Prohibition is wrong. So, here we are, visible and proud of our consumption.” It was a way of showing strength in numbers and combating the unjust laws that surround cannabis.
Since then, legislative victories have led to medical and recreational cannabis legalization in states across the US, and in turn, the Denver 420 Rally has morphed into one of the most commercialized events of the year. Scores of cannabis companies descend on Civic Center Park to hand out free swag, promote their brand, and gain legions of stoner followers. Popular musicians like Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz perform as crowds get blazed out of their minds and leave behind heaps of trash—further perpetuating the lazy, irresponsible stoner stereotype many have worked hard to break.
For DRC, April 20 is a celebration of the enormous strides already taken to normalize cannabis use, and an acknowledgement of how far is left to go. It’s a time to recognize that marijuana arrests account for almost half of all drug arrests in the US, with 650,000 occurring in 2015 alone. Mind you, 89% of those arrests were for simple possession (not manufacturing or selling) and disproportionally targeted minorities. Every year, states spend upwards of $3 billion enforcing marijuana prohibition—money that could be better spent increasing food security, helping our homeless, or bettering access to education.
It is incumbent on all of us cannabis users to celebrate in a constructive and productive way. We represent the future of the cannabis movement, and contribute to the perceptions people form regarding the friendly drug. So, before you dab that slab or spark up a half-pound joint, consider joining a volunteer organization aimed at serving communities and changing stoner stereotypes like the Green Team. You could also kick-off your celebration of the cannabis movement by donating (perhaps $42.0) to one of these organizations that fight each day to give you the legal right to consume cannabis and help end the miserably unsuccessful Drug War: Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Harm Reduction Action Center, or Americans For Safe Access.
“Drug War Statistics.” Drug Policy Alliance. Accessed April 18, 2017. http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-war-statistics.
Mcswane, J. David. “Three years after his murder, memories of Ken Gorman — Colorado’s most vocal pot activist - have gone up in smoke.” Westword, May 20, 2010. Accessed April 17, 2017. http://www.westword.com/news/three-years-after-his-murder-memories-of-ken-gorman-colorados-most-vocal-pot-activist-have-gone-up-in-smoke-5108237.