From the time I was a teenager "420" was the secret stoner handshake. Knowing those three numbers revealed a secret, parallel dimension of marijuana. Today, the plants and the people who happily seek its unique effects are no longer hidden away.
The origins of the 420 term are charming and I've tracked down the history. More poignant is that cannabis consumers of the world decided on April 20th as a holiday born from our own culture, long before the existence of a state-regulated industry.
Now, it is an entrenched, annual mainstream marketing day. The fact that 4/20 continues to grow is a testament to the resilience of our activist community.
Now, John Boehner gets to cash checks on cannabis sold to seriously ill patients in Reading, Pennsylvania. This our new 420 reality: Slick, high-rolling investment groups control the limited medical cannabis permits on the East Coast.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey are vastly expanding these programs, mainly under pressure from an increasing parade of various business lobbyists. These include the existing cartel of permit holders and now major medical institutions like Thomas Jefferson University and Temple.
Meanwhile, despite all the energy spent to promote the medicinal facet of the plant, arrests for simple marijuana possession are actually increasing in both states. Pa. averages more 20,000 every year and New Jersey clocks 26,000 people put into handcuffs annually for a few grams of cannabis flower.
State governments have come around to the idea that cannabis is safe and effective, but municipalities are arresting anyone who doesn't qualify or register to buy it at the state-permitted retail stores.
Advocates celebrated recently as the Pa. Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, approved the sale of whole plant cannabis alongside the expensive, processed oils at the state's handful of dispensaries. But, she emphasized that arrests could occur if registered patients had the audacity to roll it into a joint and smoke it.
Levine also downplayed the medical benefits of cannabis intoxication, which would be amusing in any other context. Terminally ill patients, those living with PTSD, HIV, cancer or substance disorder are all getting a benefit, a big one being the high itself.
Uniquely gentle compared to most other substances, and totally understood by humans for millennia, the high is exactly why tens of millions of Americans interact with cannabis.
The high is why restaurants, bars, music venues, coffee shops and even dog walkers had specials all weekend aimed at cannabis consumers. Lyft, the ride-sharing platform, offered $4.20 discounts with a movie launch from Fox Searchlight, which was kind of cool so people could…wait for it…get high. (Fair disclosure that I enthusiastically donated to the Super Troopers 2 crowdfunding campaign.)
Police tried to co-opt the day. Snarky tweets went out from dozens of departments as police attempted to outdo each other targeting otherwise law abiding stoners.
Since 2016 the GOP has aggressively insinuated itself into the medical cannabis industry. Every poll indicates that young voters — and even traditional Republican stalwarts — support changing some weed laws.
Meanwhile, progressive-leaning politicians such as Gov. Wolf are still sitting on the fence of "wait and see" for full legalization. It should be time for Democrats to align and finally declare peace in the drug war.
Make no mistake: People are in jail, prison and supervision for non-violent marijuana offenses right now. Loving parents are separated from children.
The spirit of the legalization movement has never been about monetizing cannabis, it has been about winning back our rights. The profits and tax revenue are all a happy accident.
At 4:20 p.m. on 4/20/2018 we gathered on South Street. Our local community celebrated the hard-won freedom we enjoy with an atmosphere of tolerance, not of the plant, but of us.