Ever since humans began keeping track of time in calendar form, every race, creed and religion on earth has attached special significance to certain dates.
We have more than a dozen â€œofficialâ€ holidays in the United States alone every year. But, in fact, just about every day is some kind of National ____ Day. If not a day, then itâ€™s an awareness week or month.
This is because these days and weeks and months falling at the same time every year plays into our need to be organized and prodded to action. Sure, everyone knows African Americans had it very rough the last few hundred years, and that breast cancer is an awful scourge, but we have February and October respectively to teach our children lessons of the past and hope for the future.
So it is with cannabis users and April 20th. Many of you know the story of San Rafael High School, The Waldos, and the origins of 4:20, but the importance of the number goes way beyond how it got started.
Those of us who see website traffic for major cannabis sites on 4/20 know how much more exposure we get on the â€œHigh Holidayâ€. The mainstream media is engaged with the movement, even if many only use the event to parrot stoner stereotypes and record footage of massive clouds of smoke hanging over college campuses.
4/20 is also a day when everyone who uses cannabis feels as if they are part of one group, instead of just a lonely outcast. On 4/20, many who hide in the shadows the rest of the year emerge to voice their support of the movement, finding strength in numbers.
And those large numbers generate a lot of media attention.
â€œ4/20 has undoubtedly become the cannabis consumerâ€™s annual holiday in the last 15 years,â€ Allen St. Pierre â€“ Executive Director of NORML â€“ told me. â€œWhile the day is largely one of celebrating cannabis, it is not a particularly busy political activism day. However, again this year, for example, a number of major TV networks like G4, Spike and Comedy Central have carved out large blocks of pro-cannabis programming throughout the day consisting of cannabis-centric movies, video and animations, along with comedy and music specials. This year Showtime will mark 4/20 by broadcasting the movie â€˜Square Grouperâ€™, a documentary about one of Americaâ€™s most notable cannabis smugglers who served almost 30 years in U.S. prisons.â€
â€œIn this respect, having so many mainstream TV networks broadcast pro-cannabis culture because of 4/20 can only help increase and enhance the ever-growing public support for ending cannabis prohibition.â€
In other words, cannabis awareness is at its zenith for the year on April 20th. But is all the media attention a good thing or a bad thing?
â€œThe traditional 4/20 marijuana celebration is a double-edged sword,â€ said Morgan Fox, Communications Manager for The Marijuana Policy Project. â€œIt provides a rallying point for marijuana users and people who are fans of marijuana culture. If used correctly, it could be a way to unite supporters of marijuana reform, users or not, to join together and demand that the laws be changed. It can show our lawmakers that we are much more numerous than they suspect and that we have the ability to work together.â€
â€œThe other side is that it often creates a spectacle for the media that overshadows the need for reform (at best), or even actively hurts reform efforts (at worst). There is certainly a massive increase in public exposure on 4/20, but it normally comes in the form of reporters using clichÃ©d puns and pictures of thousands of tie-dyed youths crowded beneath an impenetrable cloud of smoke. This usually just reinforces negative stereotypes. My impression is that in the three years since Iâ€™ve been monitoring marijuana news on a daily basis, 4/20 is the day when we see the least amount of positive media coverage. We can all help change that by getting involved with more politically-focused events on 4/20, instead of sitting around in a park all day getting ripped out of our gourds.â€
So if youâ€™re going to be proactive in the movement for at least one day, 4/20 is that day. It can be a chance to use the mainstream media to our advantage and bring our message to a larger audience.
Steve Elliot, editor of TokeofTheTown.com, concurred. â€œI think the most important thing about 4/20 is the media attention casting a light on the subject of our flawed marijuana laws and the fact that they are widely ignored and vastly unpopular. I sometimes think of it as sort of an â€˜amateur hourâ€™ or â€˜amateur dayâ€™ if you will, when a much bigger crowd enters the world in which some of us live every day.â€
And those of us who live in that world every day see online traffic increases. Allen St. Pierre at NORML says their website has even seen a 4x increase on previous 4/20s, an increase roughly comparable to websites I run and am involved with. Steve Elliot from Toke of The Town indicates that the increases he sees are more modest, saying, â€œPast years have seen a rise of 10-20%.â€
For cannabis users, 4/20 is a holiday like no other. NORML even uses the event to slash membership prices to bring more people into the movement. â€œFor the past eight years, NORML offers a one day â€˜money bombâ€™ on 4/20 to join the organization for…..$4.20 (the regular annual membership rate is $35),â€ said Allen St. Pierre. â€œThousands of cannabis consumers take advantage of not only the super low membership fee but also to regale in joining NORML on 4/20.â€
Others, like Steve from Toke of The Town, use the day to relax with cannabis-related music, an increasingly popular pastime, especially with the increase in the catalogue of such tunes.
The fact is that important dates in someoneâ€™s life have the ability to alter their daily routine. Those who support cannabis law reform but have never really done anything to help the movement have the opportunity to alter their routine. Get on your social networks and share stories about the truth of cannabis or go to a local rally if you have one, not just to be defiant and smoke in public, but also to advance awareness and prod others into action.
Every group has their own holiday or awareness event and the cannabis community is no different. The routine of an annual holiday calls to us instinctively as human beings. We relish the build-up to a special day, week or month and the events that go with them. We give everything to our favorite day, knowing we will have time to rest and plan before it comes around again.
4/20 puts the eyes of the world on the cannabis community, but, more importantly, it puts our eyes on each other. Itâ€™s the one day we know we are not alone, and for many it is the one day they allow themselves to believe that marijuana legalization is a possibility and might actually happen in their lifetime.
In the end, 4/20 is â€“ like most holidays â€“ about hope. There is always an element of history and past celebrations, but we each use special days as signposts and an opportunity to look down the road ahead.
We hope Black History Month will teach our children about tolerance and empathy and that no human being should be anotherâ€™s property. We hope Breast Cancer Awareness Month will teach our girls to be responsible about preventative health care and to teach us all to give a little more effort in combating a disease that takes our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends and sisters.
The cannabis community must use each 4/20 as an opportunity to highlight the failure of marijuana prohibition and the danger it poses to society by fomenting violence and destroying families. By all means, have fun, but also try to do something for those who canâ€™t help themselves.