Supposedly, it began in the 1970s with a group of friends in California getting together each day, always at the same specified time and with the same established purpose: smoking pot. Today, the term 4:20 has expanded far beyond that small group, and its meaning has come to encompass much more than just a specific point in time. Among its many connotations, it is an ever widening movement.
April 20th, a calendar reflection of that same number, has come to be recognized as a day to celebrate cannabis in mass, and several cities across Canada now host sanctioned events in that regard. One of the biggest and longest annually running occurrences happens in Vancouver, British Columbia. For over a decade, people have been gathering outside the Vancouver Art Gallery to peacefully rally in support of the notorious plant.
This recent Saturday, the space outside the gallery was thriving with cannabis enthusiasts. Some were young, others were old, a few were costumed, and nearly all were there as advocates for a change in policy that many believe is long overdue. The only naysayer against marijuana law reform seemed to be a bearded man wandering the crowd with a tall wooden staff and extolling the need for Jesus in all of our lives. Despite his differing views, even he was welcome at the festivities.
To provide entertainment for everyone, two stages were on site with musicians, acrobats, and other talented acts performing throughout the day. A variety of speakers also appeared to remind people of the main underlying reason for their being there. Among them was politician Dana Larsen, head of the Sensible BC campaign to decriminalize the possession of cannabis in British Columbia. He was there to promote his cause to a clearly receptive audience.
While such attractions continued onstage, people bustled about the square checking out a ring of booths set up around the perimeter. The vendors to which these belonged showcased a plethora of products, from pipes and rolling papers to home grown herbs and “special” baked goods. The space grew increasingly hazy while joints, blunts, and bongs were continuously passed around, right out in the open downtown air.
Nearby, a modest police presence turned a blind eye to it all, being there solely to ensure a lack of any disorder. Little appeared to be had, however. The overall atmosphere was positively upbeat, with thousands of diverse people sharing smiles and smokeables all afternoon to a backdrop of music, visual artistry, and cogent speakers. Being among it all, one could easily forget that the common thread uniting everyone there was something classified as illegal.
And why is it illegal, anyways? So that lobbyist backed politicians can indirectly support the interests of manufacturers that cannot compete with the versatility of hemp, not to mention pharmaceutical companies producing pills that simulate the same effects of THC? Because some people still buy into stale propaganda claiming it is a gateway drug, that it fries your brain and robs you of ambition? For countless other reasons that favour the benefits of a few over the rights of the many?
Arguments for maintaining this type of prohibition are flimsy, and much of the public no longer accepts them as valid at all. The once blurry line between the myths and facts surrounding marijuana is wide open to the scrutiny of just about anyone in this age of globally disseminated information. Occasions like 4:20 persist, in the face of a dwindling opposition. If people really want to, they will go ahead and use cannabis to ease their pain, stimulate their minds, or simply relax at the end of a long day. To tell them not to is just silly.
– Cory Magnus Stumpf