4/20 events become more mainstream following pot legalization

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For cannabis lovers, April 20th has long been a counterculture holiday to celebrate and consume marijuana while advocating for the legalization and liberalization of pot. 

But nearly four months after California legalized recreational marijuana, the annual unconventional, public smoking parties and events of years past are now front and center with more commercial bells and whistles. 

And there are mixed opinions about the change.

“They are replacing the counterculture with this homogenized, mayo-like approach,’’ said Erik Sinclair, the founder of the 10-year-old website Stuffstonerslike.com. “4/20 was really a time for people who loved marijuana to get together and celebrate marijuana and bond over the oppression. Now that we don’t have that oppression that camaraderie is kind of gone.”

For Sinclair, legalization has been anything but a blessing.

“I have many friends who are now out of work because they can’t get a grower, distributor or retailer license—it’s heart-breaking,’’ he said. “Regulators changed the rules recently and now big money is controlling cannabis.” 

But Dale Sky Jones, the executive chancellor for Oaksterdam University, the Oakland-based cannabis college that was raided by federal officials in 2012, said legalization will have a positive impact on this year’s 4/20 events.

Six years ago in the days leading up to the 4/20 holiday, armed and masked federal officials took over the school with a battering ram, sledgehammer, power saws and a locksmith. This year, Oaksterdam is planning its first "community crawl,'' in partnership with a variety of local restaurants, stores and dispensaries.

It’s all very civilized this year. Folks will be given an official “CannaCrawl Map” listing all the participating cannabis and non-cannabis businesses and their deals for the day. The more businesses you visit, the more chances you have to win prizes. It's not a new idea, but one more likely used by the chamber of commerce than a marijuana school. 

“Anytime anything goes mainstream you increase diversity. You are now trying to appeal to a much wider audience,'' said Jones. It’s no longer pointedly targeted at cannabis patients. It’s now targeted at a broader audience of adults. These legalization events allow that improved diversity and reach across all aisles to be truly legal.” 

To that end, Oaksterdam will be hosting an open house, complete with tours of their campus, a panel of cannabis experts and faculty on-hand to answer questions, and the chance to snap a photo among the live cannabis plants in the student garden.

Next door to the college, the past is meeting the present with a "cannabis-centric" photography exhibit titled, “Stories from the Underground: Reflections from the Shadows,'' which honors legendary cannabis icons, advocates and pioneers.

“The cannabis industry would be nothing without the community of activists that have paved the way. We aim to honor those local heroes, highlight those that are taking us into the future, and remember those we’ve lost due to cannabis prohibition,” said exhibit curator Sarah Ceti.

While organizers have upped their party offerings with such things as art tours, yoga and free gifts to draw people to the open-air parties, legalization also means more rules and security measures to keep revelers safe and out of trouble.

Even San Francisco’s decades-old unofficial, unsanctioned cannabis celebration, 4/20 at Hippie Hill, has become more mainstream. 

It’s still free and open to anyone 18 or older, but attendees are being asked to register online in advance and present proof of age and registration upon entry. 
Organizers are offering incentives to sign up. The first 10,000 people to register get a free limited-edition Hippie Hill 4/20 2018 commemorative vape holder lanyard. 

Every 10th person to register gets a free limited-edition Hippie Hill 4/20 commemorative T-shirt.  And every 420th San Francisco Bay Area resident over age 21 to register qualifies to win one year’s supply of weed.

The party is at Sharon Meadows in Golden Gate Park between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. with a New Year's Eve style "bud drop" happening at 4:20 p.m.

Rules for the biggest Bay Area smoking party will also be stricter this year. The event, which can draw 10,000 to 15,000 people, will be fenced off, with gates and added security in and outside the park. 

Items that are banned include tents, canopies, tables or other structures; coolers larger than 9 by 12 inches in size; barbecues or cooking equipment; amplified sound equipment; generators; glass; wagons or carts; drones or aircraft; weapons of any kind and pets that aren’t service animals.

Organizers will provide an increased number of portable toilets, as well as medical emergency services, a dedicated clean-up crew, permitted food and retail vendors and a unified sound system.   

The code “420” for marijuana smoking was developed in 1971 by five San Rafael high school students, who had a plan to search for an abandoned crop of weed after school let out. They called themselves the Waldos. Following afternoon football practice, they’d meet at the campus statue of chemist Louis Pasteur at 4:20 p.m., get high and drive out to the Point Reyes Peninsula to search for the patch of weed. 

During the school day, the Waldos would use the term ‘420 Louie’ to remind each other of their after school quest. They eventually dropped the 'Louie' part and just said ‘420’ to refer to cannabis, according to background information on the 420waldos.com site. 

Nearly 50 years later, there is increasing evidence that all things “420” have come out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Even AAA, the century-old automotive service and insurance organization than boasts more 50 million members nationwide, is getting in on the action this year.

The “AAA Tipsy Tow” service, usually reserved for St. Patrick’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday, is available to revelers from 4:20 p.m. on Friday, April 20, and to 4:20 a.m. April 21.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re drinking alcohol or using recreational marijuana, there’s never an excuse to drive impaired,” said John Moreno, public policy manager for AAA Northern California. “You should always plan for a safe ride home, but if those plans fall through, AAA will get you and your vehicle home safely on 4/20.’’