4/20: Thousands Defy Marijuana Laws To Light Up In London And Worldwide

Photo courtesy of Luke Sumpter.


by Luke Sumpter

on April 21, 2015

4/20. This simple combination of numbers has become an iconic code within a worldwide community of marijuana advocates. As a time of day within these sub-cultures, the row of numbers signals a meaningful time to sit back, spark up a joint and relax with some laughing friends or syncopated music. In the yearly calendar 4/20, or April 20, is the marker of the worldwide ‘holiday’ when cannabis enthusiasts come together to celebrate the herb as a recreational substance and medicine – or to rally behind it in the face of prohibition and governmental suppression.

There are layers upon layers of myths and rumors surrounding and shrouding the reason as to where 4/20 originated from and how it took off to become recognized by people worldwide. Is it an old police dispatch code for pot smoking antics? Is it the estimated amount of active chemicals within the herb? These are two of the most common explanations put forth.

Reporters over at the Huffington Post conducted extensive research into the origins of the springtime event and came to the conclusion that it all started with a group of young athletes who happened to have an appetite for cannabis. They would arrange to meet up after class hours outside of San Rafael High School in central California at precisely 4:20pm to hunt for an abandoned marijuana crop growing at Point Reyes Peninsula. Failing to find the rumored reefer, the group, who gave themselves the name “The Waldos,” then adopted the numbers into their clan as a code word for cannabis and activities revolving around the herb.

As fate would have it, the story then unfolds with The Waldos hanging around the Dead’s rehearsal rooms, eventually forming a bond with the band members. This led the now-universal code to ride the fame of the legendary band, appearing in places like concert flyers messages like: “We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County.” Little did The Waldos know that what started out as a small clique’s code word would become an instantly recognizable symbol and internationally celebrated day.

From its humble roots, 4/20 has germinated, grown and blossomed into a global day of appreciation for the cannabis plant. In countries and states where the controversial weed is tolerated and accepted either medicinally or recreationally, gargantuan gatherings take place. For example at the University of California, Santa Cruz (where cannabis use is legal for anyone with a medical card and its use is an official “lowest priority” for local lawmakers), a massive demonstration takes place annually as it has for decades.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo: UC Santa Cruz on 4/20. Image via Flickr Creative Commons.

Thousands of university students, alumni and others unite in a meadow on the redwood-forested campus and let fly a massive plume of marijuana smoke at 4:20pm. The event is a celebration of the herb, a statement in the name of freedom of consciousness and a giant middle finger pointed at prohibitionist policies. And, in states where cannabis is already legal for adult use and easily available, such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon, huge festivals take place statewide where pillars of smoke rise high above free concerts and gatherings.

However, in other states and countries across the world, 4/20 is more of a call to action and a rally for justice than it is a celebration. Many people throughout the world who either seek to use cannabis as a recreational substance risk-free or rely upon its medicinal value to ease symptoms and assist disease are still restricted by law from doing so. In these locations 4/20 becomes an opportune moment to raise awareness of the mass marijuana support brewing amongst the people. It is a day for the voices of thousands of passionate activists and patients to make themselves heard, loudly and clearly.

Photo by Jamie White.

Photo by Jamie White.

In the United Kingdom (UK) cannabis is currently a Class B substance and possession alone can result in up to five years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. Despite these great personal risks, those within the country who believe these laws to be unjust rally in an act of open civil disobedience to smoke and eat cannabis in huge quantities. They do so in support of the scientific research that highlights the therapeutic effects of cannabis and which renders such laws hypocritical, and they do so in the name of patients seeking access to this powerful medicine.

Reset.me payed a visit to London, England on this year’s 4/20 weekend where an annual meet up and smoke out occurs in Hyde Park — one of the city’s most iconic open spaces. As the medicinal uses of cannabis becomes increasingly well known in England, public popularity of the plant has sky rocketed. As evidence of this trend, the number of attendees at the Hyde Park 4/20 event is growing exponentially every year. This year more than 10,000 people attended.

Photo: Hyde Park, London on 4/20/2015. By Jamie White.

Photo: Hyde Park, London on 4/20/2015. By Jamie White.

At The Park

Upon approaching the crowd, large billows of cannabis smoke could be seen rising above thousands upon thousands of demonstrators holding joints, pipes, bongs and message-laden placards reading “free cannabis” and “medical cannabis for medical needs.”

Police officers dotted the edges of the crowd and the entrances to Hyde Park, observing the demonstration but allowing the open civil disobedience to continue relatively unhindered. Huge LED message boards stating the legal status of cannabis were strategically placed by the main entrances to remind people they would be breaking the law if they chose to smoke, and those who strayed too far from the main crowd, on occasion, became the target of sniffer dogs, resulting in more than 50 arrests.

Signs outside of Hyde Park's 4/20 event. Photo by Jamie White.

Photo courtesy of Luke Sumpter. By Jamie White.

Many different factions of the cannabis reformation movements within the UK met and merged in the park in an attempt to spread awareness for cannabis medicine, the many uses of industrial hemp and the warped draconian laws that still send people to prison for cannabis.

NORML UK, which works to reform cannabis laws in the UK, organized this year’s main 4/20 event. Another key player at the event was the United Patients Alliance, an organization founded in 2014 by Clark French, a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient and medical cannabis activist whose symptoms were greatly relieved by cannabis after conventional methods fell short.

At the 4/20 event, Reset spoke with the UPA’s political director, Jon Liebling. “We want to get medical cannabis to everyone who needs it,” he said. “We represent, and are made up of, medical cannabis patients. Every single one of us uses it as a medicine. I have suffered from depression and anxiety for the majority of my adult life, which I have managed adequately through my use of cannabis. Our founder, Clark French, has managed to form the United Patience Alliance, do a job and run his life whilst suffering from MS thanks to the therapeutic application of cannabis.”

Police on the sidelines of Hyde Park on 4/20. By Jamie White.

Photo: Police on the sidelines of Hyde Park on 4/20. By Jamie White.

When asked about the reasons for the continued illegality of cannabis within the UK, despite studies reflecting it’s medicinal effectiveness, Liebling said he thinks the interests of big pharmaceutical companies plays a significant role. “I think there are two ways of reviewing that analysis, one of them obviously being a financial one,” he said.

“GW Pharmaceuticals, which produce the only cannabinoid based medicine within the UK (Sativex) hold an enormous 40 patents on building cannabinoid medicines. I think that makes it very hard to argue that cannabis has zero medicinal use, however, the argument they are standing by is that by creating pharmaceuticals, manufactures are abiding by approved methods of creating a medicine. I believe there is a valid argument to be made there, but in the case of cannabis what I would really like to see is a face to face trial of pharmaceuticals versus the raw form of cannabis, which you can grow at home. Among our thousands of patients, pharmaceuticals such as Sativex work for them somewhere at the mark of 1 out of 10, whereas the raw form of cannabis never fails. These companies seem to be trying to corner and dominate the market, as opposed to providing effective medicine to the populace.”

Courtesy of Luke Sumpter.

Photo: Jon Liebling with Luke Sumpter (Left to right). By Jamie White.

Liebling said large events like the one in Hyde Park, as well as others around the globe, are important primarily as tools to raise awareness. “Today is a vastly important cultural event within the worldwide cannabis community and, due to the marked event of 4/20, there will be events going on absolutely everywhere,” he said. “Therefore they really do help, they help to bring the community together. We even have a good conversation with the police, who are around us at the moment, there is great understanding and a good ‘we won’t interfere with you, if you don’t interfere with us’ vibe going on. It also demonstrates to the public that not every cannabis enthusiast falls into the stereotype of being ‘crazy.'”

Liebling said community access to cannabis — locally and globally — is a necessity. “I still think Britain has quite a way to go in understanding all of the issues surrounding cannabis,” said Liebling. “I believe it to be absurd that sovereign adult human beings should be told what they can and cannot use as their personal recreation.”

Our conversation ended perfectly in time with the clock striking 4:20pm. The crowd emitted a booming cheer as hands reached into pickets for lighters and joints. The air grew thicker than before with the potent smell of burning cannabis. The police continued to stand passively at the sidelines.

The Hyde Park event was a small reflection of thousands of events bringing cannabis communities into unity worldwide on a date which now represents the ideals of freedom of choice, freedom of medicine and personal cognitive sovereignty.

Photo: 4/20 in Hyde Park.  By Jamie White.

Photo: 4/20 in Hyde Park. By Jamie White.