From its decidedly inauspicious beginnings in the late ‘70s as a code for some pot-loving teens in San Rafael, California, 4/20 has moved from an annual day of protest for oppressed stoners to a near-official holiday for weed aficionados around the world. But as Americans’ approval for marijuana legalization and culture rises, and corporations like Miracle Gro manufacturer Scotts take an interest in profiting from the drug in the future, it remains to be seen how the celebration of 4/20 will evolve further still. John Heilemann remarks on the cultural arc of pot smoking and the holiday, which he’s pretty sure is the only one “whose celebration requires — in 46 states, at least — the commission of a crime”:
The mainstreaming of 4/20 as a phenomenon is but one reflection of the vast social shift that has taken place around marijuana in the past decade—and which, in turn, has enormous political and legal implications. According to our latest Bloomberg Politics national poll, fully 58 percent of Americans believe pot will be legal nationwide in the next 20 years. A recent Quinnipiac poll of three swing states (Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) found slim majorities favoring the legalization of weed altogether, and majorities in excess of 80 percent in support of legalizing it for medical use.
In a professional lifetime of covering politics—and watching this issue closely for various, ahem, idiosyncratic reasons—the only shift in public opinion that I’ve seen that’s been comparably dramatic is the one about gay marriage. Both have been driven (and will continue to be driven) by demographics: by the fact that, for most young Americans, both same-sex marriage and the consumption of cannabis seem benign and unremarkable. In the case of marijuana, the engine pushing America toward legalization is also economic: As more and more states discover the revenue-raising potential of regulating and taxing weed, the logic of legalization will, I suspect, become increasingly ineluctable.
Another sure sign of marijuana and 4/20’s assent were the more than 125,000 people who attended the annual Cannabis Cup this past weekend in Denver. The event has become a Super Bowl of sorts for stoners and the industry, and is by far the largest of the many 4/20-related festivities around the country. James Joiner was in attendance this year:
Once you have properly “medicated” yourself, which is insider talk for getting stoned cross eyed, it’s off to any number of events and seminars. Cooking demonstrations, concerts, and comedy presentations are interspersed with more serious seeming fare, like “The Truth About Contaminants in Cannabis” and “Social Media Marketing in the Cannabis World.” Perhaps a testament to the level to which acceptance the once fringe cannabis counterculture has now ascended, even stoic cable news giant CNN was on hand to premiere their pot-centric show High Profits.
“If a corporate marijuana industry adopts 4/20, it would still be a celebrated event, but not with the same counter-cultural meaning,” [drug policy expert Keith] Humphreys said in an email. “People celebrated Christmas long before it became an occasion for an orgy of gift-buying and materialist consumption, but the meaning of the holiday for most people was different then than it is now.”
While that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be hearing Method Man in supermarkets throughout the spring, The Cannabist’s Jake Brown points out that a more pedestrian shift for the holiday would suit many in the weed industry just fine. For instance, when industry advocates are talking to politicians, “the last thing you want to have as the public face of marijuana is half-naked women and teens who skipped school roasting one in Civic Center Park.” There’s also the recent Pew study indicating that 62 percent of Americans would be bothered by public pot smoking if it were legalized. So huge, hazy gatherings might present an image problem, but Brown also explains how some in the weed industry are now introducing more mature events to mark 4/20 as well (a sushi- and joint-rolling class, anyone?).
The Colorado Department of Transportation seems to be adapting too: At weed events over the weekend, the agency skipped the scare tactics and handed out snacks, reminding stoners to smoke and munch rather than smoke and drive. Even better? The Denver Police were tweeting out Chamillionaire lyrics:
View the 2015 Cannabis Cup winners here.