We've Got to Fight
Apr 11, 2019 09:26PM
● By Leland Rucker
You’ll be reading a lot about 420 (or 4:20, 4/20, 4-20) in the days leading up to April 20. Here in Colorado several events are in the planning stages, the largest being the Mile High Festival in Civic Center Park in downtown Denver.
You’ll hear about how some California high school students came up with the 420 “code” for gathering to get high, which, depending on the teller of the story, eventually evolved into events around the country protesting marijuana prohibition by lighting up at 4:20 p.m. on that day.
The rallies began as dissent in the truest sense. Besides being a not-so-subtle notice that a lot of Americans were cannabis enthusiasts despite the government warning that it was dangerous and illegal, it reminded everybody else, at least for a few minutes once every year, that the authorities and government were aware of that fact, too, and could do nothing about it.
It was a proud time. One of the places that gained notoriety for its 420 events was Boulder, where police estimated that, at its height, more than 10,000 people came to the university campus to do in public what we were all already doing in private.
As a Boulder resident and committed cannabis user, I attended several of these gatherings. Talk about amusing. At the beginning, they were smaller and more locally oriented. As media coverage ramped up even before the event, the number of participants grew. US 36 would be jammed with participants rolling in from outside Boulder. There would be entrepreneurs selling crude T-shirts and people dressed up as joints or rolling papers, with a few daring souls swinging in the trees and beating on drums they carried up there. Police who gathered along the edge seemed more curious than anything else. Helicopters strafed the quad as a great cloud of smoke rose at 4:20 pm. By 5 p.m. it was all over. A yearly reminder of the stupidity of the so-called War on Drugs.
The university reacted more negatively as the years went by, and CU authorities took measures to end the protest, one year spreading a malodorous solution that included fish entrails onto the quad to discourage protestors. Finally, CU resorted to illegally asking for IDs to even enter campus on that day. The ultimate irony was that the 420 protests would have ended pretty much on their own without the university flexing its muscle and money as the state legalized in 2012.
At that point, I wondered out loud, why should we continue these events? We won. Game over. It’s legal. No need to gloat.
The Boulder event is now history. And in the years since, the Mile High Festival has taken on the 420 mantle, producing a daylong event with national bands onstage and media coverage galore. The event doesn’t have the feel of the old days. It’s been embarrassing at times to watch a nasty battle develop over who had the rights to produce the festival that included races to the doorway of the licensing bureau the moment it opened and lawsuits and charges flying about.
But then I read statistics that say citizens are still being arrested in states where cannabis is still illegal. In 2017, 660,000 Americans were detained for a marijuana violation, 600,000 of those, or 90 percent, for simple possession.
So we now live in a world where what any Colorado citizen or tourist can do legally can still put other Americans in jail, or stick them with a possession charge that follows them around like a hellhound on their trail. And that’s worth protesting. No American should be arrested for using cannabis. That was the point of the original 420 protests, for goodness sake.
And then I read the story of Nolen Sousley, the terminally ill cancer patient in Bolivar, Mo., who was humiliated and had his belongings searched for marijuana in his hospital room in March after telling authorities he had consumed edibles in the hospital parking lot.
It was a mistake that led to a pitiful situation. Thankfully, there were no citations, and Sousley himself asked people not to publicly berate the hospital or police over the incident, but it reminds us that even in Missouri, where voters approved medical marijuana in November, there is still much confusion over what’s legal and what isn’t, and in this case disparities over how patients can access cannabis as medicine.
And that’s another thing worth protesting on 420. By all means, celebrate our good fortune here in Colorado and the other states where adults can buy and consume cannabis legally. But don’t forget that the war on the War on Drugs hasn’t ended yet. There’s still a lot of work to do.