On this 4/20, the age-old question a cannabis enthusiast might ask — how is this day different from all other days I smoke weed? — might actually have an answer. That's because this is California's first 4/20 following the launch of the legal adult-use market.
Sure, it's been a bumpy ride since the passage of Proposition 64 legalized weed, with the ensuing maze of regulations lawmakers and industry players have devised and continue to tumble over in a struggle to regulate it. But the sheer freedom now accessible to any cannabis consumer who wants to walk into a dispensary and simply buy weed, on a 4/20 sale no less, cannot be denied.
But there's still a lingering question to be resolved: We know 4/20 this year is different from other years but we've yet to establish what this day means in post-prohibition California, beyond merely buying weed on sale, and how we may honor the movement that brought cannabis out of the shadows.
“Generally speaking, I think whether it be for 4/20 or just the cannabis landscape, the way it's perceived and talked about since January [the launch of California's adult-use market] has changed in that now everyone is working to normalize cannabis,” says Mike Sekula, vice president of business development at branding and marketing agency CannaVerse Solutions.
Cannabis is increasingly seen as a fundamental enhancement to otherwise everyday activities such as yoga, working out, gourmet cooking, painting and so forth. Classes like Ganjasana (cannabis yoga) or Puff Puff Paint (cannabis paint classes) show how it can complement activities already enjoyed by everyday people, casual pot smokers and self-proclaimed stoners alike.
“I think for the longest time 4/20 the date was really for just a small group, specifically people who smoke marijuana, but now with the parties and events, it's for everyone to come check out,” Sekula says. No longer is 4/20 an exclusive holiday for cannabis enthusiasts but an opportunity to educate the canna-curious about the plant and introduce them to a pot culture legal for everyone to access and enjoy.
Dispensary chain MedMen's latest advertising campaign, “Forget Stoner,” aims to show that “today's marijuana enthusiasts are everywhere and everyone” — and shouldn't be defined by their cannabis consumption. “The message is not that we're against stoners, we're against stereotypes,” says Daniel Yi, vice president of corporate communications at MedMen. “Technically speaking, I guess we're all stoners, but the reason we wanted to change the image is that it's limiting. When you say someone is a stoner, that's all you're known for.”
The “Forget Stoner” campaign, which profiles a diverse sampling of customers — a grandmother, a schoolteacher, a police officer, an athlete, an entrepreneur, a nurse, an executive and so on — highlights the various reasons why so-called “stoners,” aka cannabis consumers, choose weed. With MedMen having recently launched a new franchise on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, as well as in Las Vegas, Yi says this 4/20 is a milestone. “This is about a world stage,” he says, and MedMen is aiming to put normalized cannabis on that stage. This year, 4/20 is for everyone.
However, though 4/20 is a celebratory day — often compared to St. Patrick's Day, but with weed instead of booze — it's still sobering to put into relief how much progress has been made and how much is still needed.
Entrepreneur Jane West, who's experienced the 4/20 post-legal market launch in Colorado, says the inability to publicly consume cannabis on the holiday reminds her that the activists' fight isn't over yet. “I'd love to say, 'Oh yeah, every year it gets better and there's more people starting to embrace the holiday,' but that's just not going to happen until people can legally gather together and consume cannabis,” she says. “What we're seeing now is just private branded events that are more like people's inner networks. In order to introduce cannabis [to newcomers], celebrate the legalization and educate people about the use, there has to be social consumption.”
The fact that cannabis still must be consumed in private makes it still feel stigmatized, West says. And that sentiment isn't helped by Attorney General Jeff Sessions' revamped drug war and threats to crack down on the industry.
“There's no way to be safe from federal prosecution,” cautions attorney Laura Bianchi, head of Rose Law Group's cannabis practice. Nonetheless, she adds, states with more robust cannabis regulatory programs may be more immune than those with less regulation — when there are local rules to follow, it's easier to show you're following the rules.
“As it becomes more sophisticated and regulated, 4/20 to me is a little less rowdy,” Bianchi says. More and more, it will become a more mainstream holiday for everyday people to acknowledge as they see fit.