San Francisco Chronicle

A few po­ten­tial bum­mers cloud the 4/20 party

- JOE GAROFOLI

Free at last! Free at last! Thurs­day is the first time that 4/20 — the unof­fi­cial cannabis-lovers’ hol­i­day — will be cel­e­brated when it’s le­gal for adults to in­gest weed just for fun in Cal­i­for­nia.

OK, so no, it’s not like il­le­gal­ity ever stopped any­body from spark­ing up on this holy high day. Nev­er­the­less, to­day will feel dif­fer­ent. Le­git. And le­git­i­macy al­ways tends to make a per­son feel like a grown-up.

So the first adult choice the cannabis com­mu­nity faces is how it wants to cel­e­brate 4/20. Will it al­low the hol­i­day to de­volve into what Cinco de Mayo has be­come: a Drinko de Mayo slosh­fest brought to you by Bud­weiser and Corona and fea­tur­ing women in biki­nis?

Or will it steer it into some­thing re­sem­bling San Fran­cisco Pride: cor­po­rate-spon­sored but still true to the move­ment and firmly rooted in cur­rent po­lit­i­cal mes­sages af­fect­ing the LGBTQ com­mu­nity?

Un­for­tu­nately, right now the Drinko de Mayo side is win­ning. Look no fur­ther than the hack­neyed puns and weed jokes your fa­vorite cor­po­ra­tion is drop­ping to pan­der to the cannabis con­sumer. Last year on 4/20, this gem ap­peared on the Denny’s restau­rants’ Twit­ter feed: “Some of our fa­vorite words: baked, cooked, fried, stewed, toasted.”

Left unchecked, that pan­der­ing will only con­tinue.

“It will be less and less about its ori­gins and look more and more like a cor­po­rate-spon­sored event,” said Keith Humphreys, a Stan­ford pro­fes­sor who served on Cal­i­for­nia’s Blue Rib­bon Com­mis­sion on Mar­i­juana Pol­icy, which in­spired much of the frame­work for the rules that will gov­ern state pot law. “It will be all about prod­uct place­ment — the same thing that St. Pa­trick’s Day is for the brew­eries.”

The 4/20 hol­i­day can’t be about prod­uct place­ment only. I’ve heard too many cannabis com­mu­nity lead­ers talk about how they want this new (le­git­i­mate) in­dus­try to be true to authentic hip­pie ideals like equal­ity and di­ver­sity.

“I’d like to see 4/20 to be more like a day of re­mem­brance, for all the lives that have been lost to death and in­car­cer­a­tions,” said Lynne Ly­man, Cal­i­for­nia state di­rec­tor for the Drug Pol­icy Al­liance, a long­time player in the le­gal­iza­tion move­ment.

Given that cannabis is Cal­i­for­nia’s largest cash crop and this newly le­git $7 bil­lion in­dus­try is about to op­er­ate above ground for the first time, its po­ten­tial prob­lems are ev­ery­one’s prob­lems — even those who’ve never used the stuff.

As for ev­ery­body else, be­fore you light one to cel­e­brate free­dom Thurs­day, let’s re­mem­ber what prob­lems lurk ahead:

The party could end to­mor­row:

As long as Jeff Ses­sions is at­tor­ney gen­eral and keeps mak­ing grossly in­ac­cu­rate state­ments like “good peo­ple don’t smoke mar­i­juana” and claim­ing that cannabis is “only slightly less dan­ger­ous” than heroin, all cannabis users will re­main on edge.

“I feel like the 1980s called and they want their drug pol­icy back,” Humphreys said. “It’s all ar­rest, ar­rest, ar­rest.”

This week, a bill started mov­ing through the state Leg­is­la­ture that would es­sen­tially be a sanc­tu­ary city law for cannabis. It would pro­hibit any state or lo­cal funds from be­ing used to help fed­eral agen­cies in­ves­ti­gate or ar­rest peo­ple who are us­ing cannabis legally un­der state law.

A dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of peo­ple of color are still get­ting ar­rested:

The num­ber of mar­i­juana ar­rests dropped 46 per­cent dur­ing the first two years of le­gal­iza­tion in Colorado. How­ever, while the num­ber of ar­rests de­creased 51 per­cent for whites, they dropped only 33 per­cent for Lati­nos and 25 per­cent for African Amer­i­cans. The potre­lated ar­rest rate for African Amer­i­cans re­mained nearly triple that of whites.

Some peo­ple are al­ready see­ing se­lec­tive en­force­ment of Cal­i­for­nia’s pro­hi­bi­tion against smok­ing weed in pub­lic parks or on the side­walk.

“If you’re a cer­tain eth­nic per­sua­sion and in a cer­tain geo­graphic lo­ca­tion, you can do that,” said Ter­ryn Bux­ton, an African Amer­i­can cannabis con­sul­tant who lives in Oak­land. “So, yeah, you can do that on Hip­pie Hill (in Golden Gate Park) on 4/20. But if the po­lice were to roll by Hunters Point and see 50 or 60 black peo­ple to­gether (smok­ing), the po­lice might be say­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

The feds see mar­i­juana as the gate­way drug — to de­por­ta­tion:

New Sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity John Kelly said Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment “will con­tinue to use mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, distri­bu­tion and con­vic­tions as es­sen­tial el­e­ments as they build their de­por­ta­tion re­moval ap­pre­hen­sion pack­ages for tar­geted op­er­a­tions against il­le­gal aliens liv­ing in the United States. They have done this in the past, are do­ing it to­day and will do it in the fu­ture,” he said.

Banks still want noth­ing to do with green money:

The bank­ing sys­tem — and that largely in­cludes credit unions, too — want noth­ing to do with the cannabis in­dus­try as long as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment clas­si­fies it as a drug on par with heroin. State Trea­surer John Chiang has a task force look­ing into op­tions — the re­sults could be re­leased as soon as next month.

This is a huge worry for state of­fi­cials and law en­force­ment, es­pe­cially when the state stands to col­lect $1 bil­lion in tax rev­enue next year. Un­til there is a le­git­i­mate bank­ing sys­tem, “this is a ma­jor pub­lic safety haz­ard,” Ly­man said.

Had enough time in the bum­mer tent?

“I could go on and on about this,” said Ly­man, who will be spend­ing 4/20 speak­ing at a panel on the in­dus­try’s fu­ture in Los An­ge­les. Geez, what kind of way is that to cel­e­brate the first le­git 4/20?

“I smoke ev­ery day,” Ly­man said, and laughed. “So I don’t have to get crazy.”

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