As Joe Cocker famously pleaded in 1969 at Woodstock, “Let’s go get stoned.”
Happy 4/20 to marijuana smokers throughout the land. Today is our annual holiday, an occasion to celebrate all things related to marijuana and marijuana smoking.
Legalizing marijuana is serious business, and it requires the cumulative, ongoing effort of thousands of hard-working, committed citizen-activists to end prohibition and change state and federal policies that have been in place for more than 75 years.
More than 700,000 Americans continue to be arrested each year on marijuana charges, needlessly damaging the lives and careers of these otherwise law-abiding citizens who prefer to smoke marijuana when they relax in the evening, just as millions of other Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine when they relax. And certainly the need to stop arresting responsible marijuana smokers must remain our top priority.
But these occasional cultural celebrations, including the High Times Cannabis Cups, the Seattle Hempfest, and the Boston Freedom Rally, as well as scores of smaller celebrations all across the country, also play a valuable role in the broader legalization movement.
Admittedly those elected public officials who continue to cling to their outdated, biased anti-marijuana views will not likely be converted by these public demonstrations of popular support. But these celebrations are aimed inward, to our own culture. They remind us that, while marijuana smoking remains risky behavior legally in many states today, as smokers we are not alone, nor should we feel embarrassed or defensive about our use of marijuana.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana and these events provide us a chance to come out-of-the-closet and stand tall and proudly proclaim our support for legalizing marijuana. They have become powerful celebrations of personal freedom.
Following 75 years of prohibition, the tens of millions of marijuana smokers in America (and tens of millions more across the globe) feel a personal connection, based on our common use of a forbidden substance, despite some personal risk to all involved. By prohibiting marijuana, the government has inadvertently created a bond of trust among all of us who smoke; they have created a community in which the definition of who belongs is whether you smoke marijuana.
As a result, these events reinforce our sense of community, and will continue long after marijuana has been legalized throughout the country. Marijuana smokers, now that we have tasted a bit of personal freedom, are not about to go back into the closet, and we will continue to find comfort in public gatherings with like-minded citizens, to celebrate marijuana.
We need to use these public events to demonstrate that our culture is a significant and growing part of the broader community, and one that is entitled to be heard on matters affecting our lives. And as we move forward, with bigger and bigger crowds wanting to share in these public demonstrations against prohibition, marijuana smoking will continue to become more acceptable and more mainstream.
So today, on 4/20, the national holiday for marijuana smokers, let’s relax and proudly celebrate marijuana with our friends and family and colleagues. Even those committed to social change occasionally need a day off, to relax and have fun. And let’s pledge to return tomorrow with new energy to the hard work that lies ahead, as we again refocus on ending marijuana prohibition, stopping the arrest of smokers, and establishing a legally regulated market where consumers can obtain their marijuana in a safe and secure setting.
But for today, as Cocker implored, "let’s go get stoned"!
Keith Stroup is Legal Counsel, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws