April 20 is "National Pot Smoking Day." It's a day where people across the world celebrate in the conspicuous consumption of the magical herb, marijuana. It's an unofficial counterculture holiday that is based on the simple concept of smoking some cannabis and being happy.
The history of its origin is somewhat cloudy. I found some interesting theories into the beginning of this toker's holiday. The most convincing account was recorded in the San Francisco Chronicle. According to the editor of High Times, Steven Hager, the term "420" originated at San Rafael High School, in 1971, among a group of about a dozen pot-smoking students who called themselves the Waldos. The term was shorthand for the time of day the group would meet, at the campus statue of Louis Pasteur, to smoke pot. Intent on developing their own discreet language, they made 420 a code for a time to get high, and its use spread among members of an entire generation through various vehicles like the music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Other versions say 420 originated from a police dispatch code that identified pot smokers or that 420 was the number of chemical compounds that are found in pot.
Whatever its true origin may be, 420 Day is now firmly implanted in the marijuana subculture. The true significance of this day, beyond the fact that it brings together people to celebrate the use of marijuana, is that it's a day to explore the meaning of the freedom - or the lack thereof - to indulge in its use. Despite being a popular drug that is enjoyed by millions of Americans, it is still classified as an illegal substance. Penalties range from the stigma of arrest to fines and even imprisonment.
Currently, there is a tremendous amount of activity in the marijuana arena. Many states like New Jersey and Illinois are calling for the legalization of medical marijuana. This was in the wake of a recent policy shift by the Obama administration. It openly called for the limitation of prosecuting sick people who use the drug for medical purposes or to the caregivers that dispense it in states that have passed medical marijuana legislation.
Recently in California, San Francisco lawmaker, Tom Ammiano, introduced a bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. "With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense," Ammiano told reporters. "This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes. California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana."
Advocates point out that thirteen states already regulate medical marijuana. "Marijuana already plays a huge role in the California economy. It's a revenue opportunity we literally can't afford to ignore any longer," said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's time to end the charade of marijuana prohibition, tax the $14 billion market, and redirect criminal justice resources to matters of real public safety. Assemblyman Ammiano has done the state an enormous service by breaking the silence on this commonsense solution."
On May 2 there will be a worldwide marijuana march that will be held in over 544 cities in 54 nations around the world to celebrate the medicinal value and spiritual benefits of marijuana. The principal organizer of the event is veteran activist, Dana Beal. He believes that this is a critical year for the cause. Beal is especially concerned about the large amount of pot arrests involving nonviolent citizens who choose to smoke it in the privacy of their own homes. "Criminalizing millions of people - nearly 10 percent of the total US population for smoking a plant is ridiculous" he says. Numerous scientific studies since President Nixon's Shafer Commission have proved this. Beal also believes that the money spent by the criminal justice system to prosecute and jail harmless pot smokers would be better spent on our educational system and health care.
The debate on the legalization of marijuana continues. It's up to the millions of pot smokers across our nation who use 4/20 as a day to light up to get involved in changing the prohibition that ruins so many lives and takes away the legal right to consume what we want in our own bodies, without the threat of governmental interference.
Anthony Papa is the author of 15 To Life and a communications specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance.