420 is Lost but not Gone

It wouldn’t be an effective introduction to say that like every other day of celebration that started by reflecting on the strife and struggles endured in the pursuit of an idea; the concept of 420 has become a cornucopia of monetary gain; often overindulgence; and the perpetuation of a side of a culture that’s slowing its own progress. That’d be way too upfront. How cool, and historically significant it is—that might be a better start. But, that’s going to be tough. Honestly, the story behind the foundation of 420 is pretty boring. The guys responsible, just a couple of students back in the early 1970’s at San Rafael High School in California, used the time (4:20) to meet next to a statue after class in order to smoke. Twelve people participated in this whole exchange.

So, why do we care?

Years later, the reference started being used more frequently. It seemed an entire culture of resistance to power, spirited advances against the mechanization of our daily lives, and a sweeping mentality of individualism and a heightened consciousness was the narrative behind 420’s then unknown representation. Within the last several years however, the entire concept has morphed into a deluge of pot leaf signs, stickers, t-shirts, banners, buttons, bikinis, tattoos, tapestries, totems, party themes, movie easter eggs, entire movies, overt references, red-eyed stigmatization, a sense of unoriginality, and the feeling that overconsumption is synonymous with fun.

It might be too much to ask that the entire stigma just abruptly stop. And I’m not saying we need to stop enjoying ourselves. But taking a moment to reflect on why we’re able to celebrate, and the work we still need to do might influence our priorities come April 20th, or even 4:20 for some. This plant was used for thousands of years by cultures across the entire planet until the United States government made it illegal in the 1930’s and influenced most of the world to do the same. It only became known as “marijuana” because of the racially motivated fear mongering that occurred during the Mexican Revolution which forced many immigrants to relocate to the States.

The United States Pharmacopoeia had it listed as medically useful in the treatment of nausea, rheumatism, and general pain management as late as the 1940’s. We’ve proven multiple times through 3 presidential administrations within the last 50 years alone that this plant has immense medical potential. And we ignored the findings, continuing to list it as having no medical value whatsoever, while using it as a catalyst to vilify minority and poor communities.

Cannabis naturally produces specific phyto-cannabinoids that no other plant on Earth produces. These are chemically nearly identical to endogenous cannabinoids that every single human also naturally produces; which, by the way, are essential to our health. They’re produced and received by an endocannabinoid system which operates as the primary regulatory system of others like the central nervous, the digestive, the endocrine, and the circulatory systems. Various cannabinoids have shown to be neurogenerative, aiding in the creation of new nerve tissue. And a cancer cell destroyer?! Oh, and have you heard of the “far too extensive to maintain anyone’s attention” list of other medical applications those pioneers before us and those of today have illustrated within the most hostile research environment imaginable?

Despite the extensive benefits this plant has to offer, public policy has been fervent in its efforts to cast a grim shadow on Cannabis through the War on Drugs. Between 2001 and 2010 alone there were 8,244,943 arrests for Cannabis, over 7 million of which were for simple possession. Black Americans are nearly 4 times more likely to be incarcerated for Cannabis than white Americans, with comparable consumption rates. Through the looming fog of the furthest reaching drug abuse crisis in U.S. history, perpetuated by legal drug providers, we have a presidential administration denying the science that shows how Cannabis actually aids in recovery. Not only that, they’re of the belief, or at least maintain the facade, that it’s what causes drug abuse in the first place. This representation, this number, this holiday, is an opportunity to forever alter the dialogue constructed through toxic miseducation.

I would love if this celebration, or even its reference again, were in some way paying homage to the grotesque nature by which Cannabis was forced into the shadows of the world’s consciousness, by protesting against conformity and the often misleading ideals of popular opinion. But that’s not what it’s become. While it’s vitally important to enjoy ourselves and those around us, we must stay vigilant in our effort to change the perception surrounding this plant. So let's enjoy the shows, the rallies, and every event we can get because this plant and what it represents have endured a great deal to get us to where we are now. Let's just put the rig down for a minute and make it last.

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