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So hey—for this special April 20 issue of CityBeat —can we agree on one thing? That all this 420 infatuation is kind of dopey. I mean, I smoke a little weed but honestly, if one more of my friends gets all stupid and giggly because a cashier said, "That'll be $4.20 please," I'm going to strangle a pigeon.
As most everyone knows by now, 420 is: a designated time at which to smoke dope, a secret code smokers use to get all wink-wink-nudge-nudgey with each other in public places, and the official holiday (April 20) of the bud subculture—as if stoners aren't also "celebrating" on April 19 and April 21. As if the fact that the big hand is on the four and the little hand is on the 20 is any more reason for a pothead to light up than if the big hand is on the pipe, the little hand is on the lighter and the knee is on the steering wheel.
But I get it. Every subculture needs to have an inside joke to share. However, as an official holiday, 4/20 is lame. See, the movement to legalize weed is more than a silly little sideshow perpetuated by long-haired hippies tailgating jam festivals in Technicolor camper vans. It is also a serious civil rights issue that roils in the heart of what liberty truly means, not to mention the utterly disproportionate manner in which drug laws are enforced on minorities, and the outrageous number of people incarcerated for an activity that nearly half the country has enjoyed at one time or another.
The movement to legalize cannabis is vital to the health and fairness of this democracy and in being so, needs a holiday with purpose and meaning. Sadly 420 has neither. There are many incorrect myths about the origin of 420, such as that it is the number of chemical compounds in cannabis, or that April 20 commemorates the death of Bob Marley, or that it's tea time in Holland, or that 420 is the penal code section for marijuana use in California. Sadly, the real answer is more mundane than any of these. It was coined in 1971 by a group of five San Rafael High School students who would meet at a statue of Louis Pasteur just off school grounds. The purpose of the meeting was to get baked and go search for a reefer plot that was rumored to have been abandoned on the Point Reyes Peninsula. During school hours they would pass each other in the hallways and say "420 Louis" which meant, "We're meeting today at the statue at 4:20 pm."
What a yawn-fest. When you compare that to other holidays it sure comes up flat. Take Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla, when a ragtag militia of 2,000 Mexicans defeated 6,000 French soldiers. Or the Fourth of July , which honors the day a new nation was born. Or even Christmas, which celebrates the birth of the person who created the entire universe, or was it his son's birthday? Or both? Whatever. Point is, these are holidays that mean something! But celebrating a group of high schoolers who met after class to smoke pot then went looking for more pot to smoke? Seriously? Is this the event that we want to mark as the premier blazer holiday?
I say, "No." Not with so many better events in cannabis history from which to choose. For instance, we could have 115 Day, which recognizes the date, November 5, 1996, when the first state, California, legalized medical marijuana.
Another possibility is 915 Day, commemorating September 15, 1978, the day that two groundbreaking journalists released the most important, informative documentary about marijuana ever filmed— Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke.
Speaking of marijuana movies, we could also go with Reefer Madness Madness Day to honor when Mayor LaGuardia of New York made a mockery of the spurious claims made by the anti-marijuana propaganda film, Reefer Madness.
See, thanks to that movie, and the subsequent Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the country was whipped into a terror over this alarming new dope epidemic that caused violence, insanity, addiction and—worst of all—white girls to dirty-dance with Negroes in jazz clubs!
Recognizing hysteria mongering when he saw it, my man La Guardia—a name that should be engraved on the bong of every pothead in America—empowered The New York Academy of Medicine to conduct a five-year study on the effects of marijuana—the first of its kind.
Well, as should come as no surprise to anyone who has partaken, the La Guardia Report concluded that marijuana does not cause insanity or violence and is not physically addictive. Oddly, the report did find that, "Yes, actually—smoking weed sometimes does cause white women to dance dirty with Negroes. But we consider that a good thing."
One last remark. While we're creating new stoner holidays, it might be a good idea to recognize at least one unhappy milestone in the history of cannabis—kind of like how we grieve for 9/11 or Pearl Harbor Day. An event that will give us cause to rage against the machine. For this, I say we go with The Ides of Chong , which mourns that bleak day in 2003 when Tommy Chong was sentenced to nine months for selling bongs. It is both an injustice around which we can rally and a word of warning to paraphernalia sellers— beware the Ides of Chong.