San Francisco Chronicle
A few potential bummers cloud the 4/20 party
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.”