Women kiss during the Denver 4/20 rally in 2013. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

What 4/20 means to me: For pot critic, it’s all about camaraderie

Jake Browne: Whether you professionally approve of it or not, people will coalesce around cannabis every April. My challenge to the industry and my peers is to stop with the 4/20 shaming.

My first 4/20 and my last 4/20 have little in common. In 1999, I was a relative novice who had pitched in with a couple of friends to get an eighth of brick weed, then rolled up a couple of Swisher Sweets cigarillos to smoke with 20 or so classmates at Bever Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 2014, I was standing atop a three-story structure erected at the U.S. High Times Cannabis Cup in Denver, watching thousands of people puff in unison after taking a dab of Grape Stomper shatter below. Both times, though, were about one thing: being with friends.

In high school, it was an act of united rebellion. There were stern warnings from Principal Plagman about our conveniently timed “skip day,” but a decade and a half later I couldn’t guess what sort of punishment I received. I didn’t care. We didn’t care.

Last year, we celebrated the first Cup after legal sales had gone wide in Colorado with a crowd that represented all walks of life. Even a guy riding a Segway with a monkey on his shoulder or a pug in a baby stroller seemed par for the course. The former was most assuredly high, the latter just terrified. But again, we were in it together.

The problem is that marijuana is fast becoming a business instead of a culture, and the business of marijuana has little use for the human vestiges of prohibition.

I get that events like the Cup or the 4/20 Rally are easy targets for people who want to “weed out” the stoners. When you’re talking to politicians, the last thing you want to have as the public face of marijuana is half-naked women and teens who skipped school roasting one in Civic Center Park. Denver is a city that once engaged in great debates over women in bikinis waving signs, after all.

But I was once one of those teenagers, something I felt greatly conflicted about as I told my high school newspaper that minors shouldn’t use marijuana. I have great respect for activists like the deceased Ken Gorman who staged smoke-ins that would be decried nowadays. That’s part of our city’s — and country’s — marijuana past that can’t be whitewashed. Nor should it be.

Whether you professionally approve of it or not, people will coalesce around cannabis every April. We play a dangerous game when we talk about how products should be marketed or who should be able to celebrate, let alone how said celebrations should occur. My challenge to the industry and my peers is to stop with the 4/20 shaming.

If we’re being honest, trade shows across many industries are notorious for the exact same practices, especially those with a primarily male audience. Pushing forward the notion that marijuana events are uniquely offensive in this regard is just a different form of old propaganda. In fact, that focus only detracts from the reality that those who want alternative celebrations have more options than ever.

There are a litany of events that could be held up as “progress” as cannabis culture continues to evolve. The Farm, a Boulder dispensary, is using the holiday as an opportunity to collect donations for the Conscious Alliance and could use your support. Ladybud Magazine is hosting a women-driven event appropriately titled “Classin’ up the Joint” over the weekend that is expected to be well attended. Even Green Labs is changing the conversation by offering a “Sushi and Joint Rolling” class.

These are events that aren’t likely going to be huge with the college-age “stoner dude” crowd, but then again, I haven’t heard any of those stoner dudes clamoring for them to add promotional models or Method Man to their lineups. It’s funny how often I hear people I respect seek to impose their idea on others of how 4/20 should be celebrated without considering that fact for a moment.

Judging people on how they choose to celebrate or promote their product gets us nowhere. There’s no political capital to be gained by playing the outrage card over these various events. In the same way Christians understand that much of the festivities around Christmas have little to do with their religion or football fans wouldn’t call the Pro Bowl actual football, the industry needs to accept the holiday for what it is.

Because 4/20 for me, and many I know, has always been about seeing good friends first and being able to share a little pot with them second.


In the industry 4/20 means the busy season:

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