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Celebrating 420 from the Roots: How to Honor Cannabis and Give Back to Those Who Sacrificed So Much

Updated: May 27, 2020

Historically 420 got its roots in the 1970's, when California locals caught on to the police codes for cannabis consumption. The police force would use the code 420 to describe cannabis smoking when pursuing individuals for arrest, as cannabis possession was a criminal act at the time.

Fast forward a few decades, and April 20th has become the official day to celebrate the plant. Many cannabis organization take this day to highlight the current status of cannabis, as well as market their product to consumers looking for a fun way to celebrate a holiday honoring the slow and steady end to cannabis prohibition.

Though for many this day (and the 420 police code) comes with a heavy toll, as there are still so many US citizens incarcerated for cannabis related crimes. Based on statistic provided by the Drug Policy Alliance, 90.8% of people arrested for cannabis related crimes are charged for possession only (599,282 out of 659,700), while 46.9% of drug-related arrests are against Black and Latino people (despite making up 31.5% of the population). There is still a substantial amount of work to be done in order to free and rehabilitate victims of the war on drugs before the cannabis industry can be a completely inclusive and progressive space.

Image: California Minority Alliance Outside of Los Angeles City Hall for Meeting on Prop M

Marijuana Business Daily released a survey in 2017 showing that 81% of individuals owning cannabis related businesses identified their race as white, while only 5.7% identified as hispanic/latino, and 4.3% identified as african-american. California has led the industry in sales and growth as well as diversity with 40% of cannabis business owners identifying as minorities, with many organizations fighting to increase the amount of POC owned and operated businesses.

Image: California Minority Alliance, SCC, and The Clear at Los Angeles City Hall

With groups like the California Minority Alliance there is promise for a brighter and more diverse future in the industry, but it is going to take the cooperation and support of industry leaders and consumers alike in order to make major shifts on a national level. The foundations of this industry may seem to be built around the healing properties of this medicinal and mind-altering plant - but it is also built on the misfortune of people of color (POC) that have been systematically disadvantaged through the war on drugs.

So what's next? How do we face the shifts in the cannabis space; how do we handle the well-funded and powerful (predominately white) organizations that are trickling into the space (like a thundering waterfall)?

My heart and mind were conflicted this year when faced with the marketing campaigns and business opportunities centered around 420, as these facts above have been a major concern of mine moving forward in the work I do in the cannabis space. How can I toast my colleagues with CBD infused mocktails and congratulate ourselves on surviving legalization all while cozied up in our privileged cannabis bubble?

Image: Polaroids of The Clear team throughout the years

It feels important for me to say: I don't take a moment for granted. I still find small ways to honor my own path. The Clear's birthday actually falls on April 20th, 2013 - as this is when we debued the honey-like oil at Hempcon back in the day. As an organization, we had always celebrated this day as a landmark in our journey - giving thanks to our team and the cannabinoids that inspired us to do what we do.

Image: The Clear 420 celebration in 2016

I support the brands who are also using this day to reflect on the journey they have taken with the plant, but also hope that they will be mindful of those who did not have the same opportunities to flourish in the cannabis market, specifically those who are still living the consequences of the war on drugs every day.

There are a number of ways that you can give back to those affected by the war on drugs, and I encourage you to explore these opportunities. Taking action and practicing conscious consuming is critical in this process - support your local brands, especially those operated by POC. Below are a list of organizations that you can donate to or get involved with that do work in order to educate citizens and lawmakers to reform drug enforcement policies and protect individuals affected by the war on drugs.

This year for 420 we should reconsider how we celebrate this plant. Let us find ways to uplift and empower one another to build a stronger and more connected movement. Use this day as a time to reflect on the challenges, the healing, the growth, and the work that has to still be done.

Think of the possibilities with cannabis; the opportunity to reshape culture and consumerism; and most importantly how we listen and learn.

As the blueish smoke plumes of cannabis fill the sky or hotbox your living room, start to think of April 20th as a Veteran's Day/Memorial Day, and not a Black Friday - there are too many people to thank for how far we have come.

And with that, I wish you all a safe and happy 420.

LEAP - This organization consists entirely of current or former law enforcement officials who have fought on the frontlines of the drug war – and concluded that we need to pursue the alternatives that are working so well wherever they are tried.

Students for a Sensible Drug Policy - Young people are disproportionately targeted in the drug war. This group organizes young people to fight back and offers education on policy reform and rehabilitation. @SSDP @SSDPUK

NORML - This is the largest cannabis legalization organization in the US. They have resources for getting involved in demonstrations, educational outreach, and assisting those who have been disadvantaged by the war on drugs.

Super Nova Women - A woman of color owned and focused organization founded in 2015 that offers support and resources within their community to empower WOC business owners to establish themselves within the cannabis space and strengthen one another as a community of diverse and talented individuals.

MCBA - This not for profit organization was established in 2015 to assist minority business owners, employees, and consumers based on their specific needs within the cannabis industry. They work to create a strong network of individuals, and have a number of resources and ways to help contribute to their cause.

Equity First Alliance - The mission of Equity First Alliance is to harness the political power of cannabis organizers that work at the intersection of the cannabis industry, racial equity, and reparative justice. Through education, mobilization, dialogue, engagement, and collective action, we work to advance equity in the cannabis industry, to repair harms of the War on Drugs, and to seek justice for those who have been most harmed by it.


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