420: 'Weed Day'
By Ilana Jael
April 20th has not been history’s best day. Most infamously, it was Hitler’s birthday, but it was also the occasion of the Ludlow Massacre, the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the devastating Columbine shootings. But now that we’ve survived it this year without any major catastrophes, it’s not too late to start getting in the “green” spirit for Earth Day with some help from one of our favorite plant-based substances — because 4/20 is also the unofficial holiday celebrating all things cannabis.
While rumors has it that this weedy celebration got its date from a police code for marijuana smoking, it was actually coined in the early 1970s, by a group of high school stoners in California who congregated daily at 4:20 pm to light up. The group was known as the Waldos, and one of these “Waldos” eventually became a Grateful Dead roadie. The term then spread to band and their intense community of liberal “Deadheads”, then to stoners at large with the help of a few mentions in cannabis-themed periodical High Times.
The day is now marked by countless events and gatherings worldwide, including Atlanta’s Sweetwater 420fest, Washington DC’s National Cannabis Festival, Hollywood’s Elevation Festival, and Denver’s Official 420 Rally. Many of these events have an activist component, calling for widespread legalization of the drug — and they have more than enough reason to back them up!
For one thing, marijuana wasn’t always the forbidden fruit it is today. During our Jamestown days, hemp growth was actually encouraged due to its role in cloth and rope production, with George Washington himself even owning a hemp farm! Then, starting in the 1800s, cannabis became a popular ingredient in many medical tinctures. But “marijuana”, did not enter the public lexicon as a drug of potential abuse until the early 1900s, when it was noticed as a popular indulgence of Mexicans. The media than began to use this perceived cultural difference to spread fear around the substance, which was then seized upon by lawmakers as an excuse to search, detain, and deport Mexican immigrants. The Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively banned its use and sales, was passed in 1937. Though this act was later deemed unconstitutional, it was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act, with Richard Nixon electing to place it in the most restrictive category of “Schedule 1” despite the recommendation of the Schafer Commission, which doubted it should be designated as an illicit substance at all.
And the racially charged past of marijuana’s criminalization is still incredibly relevant today. More than 250,000 people have been deported from the United States for drug law violations every year since 2007, with simple marijuana possession the most common cause of deportation for drug law violations. Among Americans 80% of people in federal prison and almost 60% of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino, and prosecutors are likely to give them harsher sentences
So getting marijuana legalized is about more than just being able to have a good time; it’s also about giving the people in power one less chance to discriminate, and about helping people who might actually need its medicinal properties. Along with its recreational use, studies have found that small doses of THC can be effective treatments for anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic pain and nausea. It’s been shown to relieve symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and glaucoma, and even been hypothesized to help prevent Alzheimer’s and fight cancer.
And once government learns to work with rather than against the drug, they can harness it for the greater good. Aurora, Colorado, has recently committed to using over a third of its marijuana tax earnings, which will amount to over 3 million over the next three years, to invest in helping the city’s homeless population. Similar proposals are in the works in Ketchikan, Alaska and have been proposed in California— just think of how much good we could do if the whole country was on the green team, including good for the Earth that we're celebrating!
Finally, some studies show that a little THC, when used moderately, can actually up your creativity by increasing divergent thinking. While naysayers say that too much time spent smoking will only turn your brain to mush, here’s a list of smart, successful stoners attesting to quite the opposite.
Abraham Lincoln (16th President)
Barack Obama (44th President)
Bob Dylan (Blowin’ in The Wind, Like A Rolling Stone, Times They Are A Changin’)
Bob Marley (No Woman, No Cry, Redemption Song, I Shot The Sherrif)
Jimi Hendrix (Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, Stepping Stone)
Jay-Z (Empire State of Mind, Run This Town, 03 Bonnie And Clyde)
Miley Cyrus (Wrecking Ball, We Can’t Stop, The Climb)
Rihanna (Diamonds, Umbrella, Love On The Brain)
Science And Tech;
Carl Sagan (Contact, Cosmos)
Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft)
Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple)
Stephen King (Cujo, It, Carrie)
Hunter S. Thompson (Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary, Screw-Jack)
Jack Kerouac (On The Road, The Dharma Bums)
Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame)
Even Shakespeare himself has been suspected of partaking in the habit, with clay pipes containing cannabis found in the garden of his Stratford upon Avon. So while I will remind you that non-medical use of the drug is still technically illegal for New York state, I’ll also leave you with an immortal observation from Richard III; “Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace”.