For many people across the United States the date April 20th, doesn’t mean anything special. Unless you have a friend or family member celebrating a birthday, it’s just another date to cross off the calendar. Not so if you live in Colorado.
From the early 1970s the term 4/20 has referred to marijuana and its subculture. The story goes that a group of teenagers in California started meeting after school at 4:20 to smoke pot and the secret code they used to tell people about it was 4/20. Before long the date 4/20, or April 20th came to have the same significance. It’s a day to celebrate the marijuana subculture.
When we moved to Colorado last fall I knew the culture here would not be identical to the culture we left behind in New York. Different areas of the country feel different and have their own charms. What I didn’t expect was to spend our first weeks in our temporary condo smelling suspicious odors every time we left our windows open for a fresh breeze.
One day as we were carrying in groceries, our downstairs neighbor, hanging out on his patio, which was directly under ours, threw a hello our way and then added, “Oh, and by the way, just so you know, I’m permitted.”
I was a bit confused, until my husband filled me in on this new term. “Permitted” means a person has a medical marijuana card. They have gone to a doctor, proven they have one of the many justified medical ailments that warrant a card, and been given permission to use marijuana legally in our state. Which also means they can smoke it on their patio, under your patio, and bless you and your impressionable teenage children with their pungent-smelling smoke.
It’s not a secret that just about anyone in Colorado can justify getting permitted. There are marijuana dispensaries by the hundreds and even the smallest towns seem to have enough business to support a medical marijuana shop. Some offer an onsite doctor, who will write the prescription on the spot. Denver hosts Kushkon, which is one of the biggest cannabis conventions in the country. This was just a bit distressing for our family, as the chance that our teens would be exposed to marijuana at a friend’s house skyrocketed, compared to our life back in New York.
We’ve had a lot conversations with our kids, and continue to keep the dialogue open. We’ve talked about how smoking marijuana differs from cigarettes and why it’s not in their best interest. There is only so much we can do when this specific drug seems to be everywhere in our area.
Which leads us back to 4/20. In Denver there will be a two day city-sanctioned festival, including a joint-rolling contest and live bands. More than 10,000 participants are expected to attend, which is a bigger crowd than the wildly popular home games at the local college, CU. At 4:20 in the afternoon there will be the yearly smoke-off in Denver, and in Boulder, the city most famous for having a pot-friendly culture. With the problem of unruly participants in years past, this year it was decided that only students will be allowed on campus on April 20th, forcing the yearly gathering on the Quad to be moved to another part of town. Police presence will be thick, but mostly to keep the order. There are very few arrests made for illegal possession. In fact, the executive director of marijuana advocacy group SAFER, Mason Tvert, claims, “When thousands of people use marijuana at the same time, we don’t see nearly the problems as when thousands use alcohol.”
It will be the first year that we live in Colorado on the very significant date of 4/20. The evening news and local papers will feature the local events as their top stories. It’s something to get used to, as we acclimate to our new state. Along with the elk that roam through our yard and the mountains outside my kitchen window, the daily reminders of a unique subculture will soon become commonplace. If I can only keep my kids from being tempted to jump on the bandwagon.