On April 20th, or 420, I spoke with several reporters. They were particularly interested in my thoughts on 420 protests calling for the legalization of cannabis and whether such gatherings would still be necessary once Canada lifts prohibition on cannabis in the spring of 2017.
As I spoke to one reporter after another, my thoughts and speculations started formulating. I was quoted as stating that there might no longer be a need for 420 gatherings as a rebellious act. Perhaps, though this speculation brought me to think more deeply about the purpose of 420 gatherings.
Beyond rebellion, and in my experience, 420 gatherings are an opportunity to “come out of the cannabis closet” and feel the freedom of openly consuming cannabis without too much fear of police intervention. For anyone who has experienced being closeted for something that is not socially accepted or illegal, the mere act of being amongst a crowd that shares your behaviour or identity can be quite liberating.
Much like the Pride movement of the LGBT communities, which started off with small parades by a few brave souls who walked through jeers of a disapproving crowd, 420 gatherings have brought the consumption of cannabis to the foreground. Until cannabis is regulated in Canada, such gatherings still bring attention to the issue of a law that is not in synch with the practices of many Canadians.
As we roll up our sleeves and get ready to create a regulatory framework for cannabis in Canada, I urge the government to adopt a moratorium on arrests for cannabis possession while we sort it all out.
I suspect that 420 gatherings may evolve into more of a festival of sorts, similar to what Pride events have now become. Reports on April 20th from cities across Canada seemed to indicate large crowds, in some cases larger than they have ever been before. Perhaps people feel more comfortable coming out since Canada is on the verge of legalization.
I decided to venture out to the 420 event here in Victoria, BC to observe for myself. Quite a large crowd had gathered in Centennial Square. Many were youth, though ages ranged greatly. Many people were dressed up in festive wear. There were smiles, random music here and there, and laughter. The voice of a local protester was broadcasting through an inadequate amplifier so that no one other than the people standing a few feet away could make out what was being said.
I listened to the conversations around me. People were wondering where the stage was and what happened to the music. They seemed to be seeking that festival atmosphere. Some attention seekers were chasing cameras. Others were lurking around groups sharing a joint, hoping for a toke. People were generously sharing. I saw some excessive use, as well as some restraint. Finally, the countdown to 4:20 pm, the loud cheers, and the large cloud of smoke bellowing over the crowd. And then many people left.
Is this cannabis culture? Well, it is a snapshot of some of it. Mostly, though, I see it as a social movement advocating for change to laws that do not suit reality. Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the world. 420 rallies have pointed this fact out, quite bluntly. Pun intended.
Will 420 gatherings turn more into festivals, with music and vendors and such, much like the Pride festivals? Will they fizzle out, as implied in the media? That remains to be seen.
One thing I do believe, though, is that in time, and with cannabis regulation, its use will become more normalized. We will be able to have more open dialogues about what is responsible use and what is not. We will develop social norms, much like we have with alcohol. We will have better information about how to use it more safely and reduce some of its harms. Personally, that is the kind of cannabis culture I would like to see.