As small businesses across the country reel in the face of the Coronavirus lockdown, several industries are riding the waves. Pot sales in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska have risen an estimated 50%, and cannabis stores have been classified as “essential businesses” in many locations. As the counterculture pot-smoking holiday, April 20, known as 420 Day, arrives, states are concerned that weed smokers will continue a tradition of lighting up in public at 4:20 p.m. and breach social distancing rules. Will the revelers comply with COVID-19 isolation and join the mainstream?
Each year, cannabis fans gather to smoke in public spaces, partly as a form of activism, and partly as a celebration. This year, lawmakers are keen to quell large gatherings and have issued stern warnings to those who may consider keeping to the 4/20 tradition.
San Francisco’s Democrat Mayor London Breed insisted that revelers should obey the isolation guidelines, tweeting:
“To be clear: 4/20 will not be tolerated this year… Do not come to San Francisco to celebrate. We will cite people. We will arrest people if necessary… Order food. Watch Netflix. Stay home and stay safe.”
The city’s notorious hangout, “Hippie Hill” in Golden Gate Park, hosts an annual gathering of cannabis aficionados from all over the nation. This year, police presence will be abundant, and the city coffers could swell as citizens are fined for taking part in events.
A Budding Market
Unlike many businesses, the marijuana market has remained largely unaffected during the COVID-19 lockdown, and in some areas, sales have actually increased. Controversially, weed outlets in several states have been classified as “essential businesses.”
In Colorado, both recreational and medical retailers are open for business as long as they comply with guidance stipulating social distancing is maintained. For non-medical suppliers, this means curbside pick-up only.
The governors of Illinois, Hawaii, New York, Vermont, and more, have excluded marijuana outlets from closure, citing them as essential. Other states have termed retailers as “compassion centers” (Rhode Island), or “Life-Sustaining Businesses” (Pennsylvania). Whatever the terminology, very few industries have fared as well.
A Virtual High
This year, organizations that promote cannabis legalization have joined lawmakers in asking partakers to stay home. The Colorado-based dispensary chain LivWell Enlightened will be hosting a livestream charity event for furloughed service industry workers involving comedians and musicians in an attempt to keep folks at home. Other groups are also hosting virtual events to keep smokers glued to their couches.
Another collaborative event, the Highstream 420 Festival, will be part entertainment gala and part telethon as relaxed viewers will be invited to make donations during the online performance.
Protest or Party?
In a sure sign that cannabis usage is no longer a counterculture issue, the virtual festivities are expected to be well attended. But the history of 420 Day has traditionally been one of protest; people gathering en masse to partake in illegal activity in the hopes that city officials would eventually stop arresting participants due to the sheer numbers involved. And to some extent, it has been effective.
How long will it be before 420 Day just becomes another celebration? Charity telethons, celebrity endorsements, and stock exchange listings are not components of a quiet revolution. No matter how rebellious weed smokers think they are, it may be time for them to settle down, deduct their charitable donations, and accept that they are finally a mainstream subculture.
Read more from Mark Angelides.