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Finding the Balance Between Holiday Spirit and Commercialism this 420

Written by Alexandra Hicks
When 420 began back in the early 1970s, it was simply a day for weed smokers to connect during a time when that wasn’t always an easy feat. April 20th was an underground stoner holiday that has long held a special place in cannabis tradition and lore. However, as cannabis continues to find its place in the mainstream, the quirky, light-hearted fun of 420 gave way to unchecked commercialism and has now become little more than a day to score deals if you’re a consumer, and sell extra products if you’re a business owner – it’s basically the Black Friday of the cannabis industry.

Some people don’t mind the trend, and for the sake of keeping it honest, I definitely love a good 420 deal myself. But deals aren’t everything, it’s important to remember the true meaning behind 420 – friends, oneness, and progress. Some companies and industry professionals have denounced the materialistic nature of modern-day 420, altogether and are hoping to take the holiday back to its carefree origins.

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History of 420

The origin of the term 420 can be traced back to a group of five teens from San Rafael, California, the birthplace of many industry trends and the current largest cannabis market in the world. The teens were appropriately nicknamed “the Waldos” due to their preferred hang out spot – a wall outside of their high school. In the fall of 1971, the Waldos got wind of a rumor that a Coast Guard planted some cannabis seeds there and was no longer able to tend to his field.

Every day after school, they would pile into one of their cars, have a little smoke sesh, and scour the Point Reyes National Forest for this legendary crop. Their daily meeting time? 4:20 p.m. They never did find the elusive crop (that likely didn’t even exist), but they did manage start a trend that would first take over their high school and soon reach global status.

The phrase “420” quickly spread around, especially with teens and young adults, because it allowed teens to talk about cannabis openly while their parents, teachers, and supervisors were none the wiser.

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Trends spread around high schools all the time, but how did the 420 become internationally known? That took some star power, for which we have the Grateful Dead to thank. The Waldos had connections with the Grateful Dead. Mark Gravitch’s father managed the band’s real estate and Dave Reddix’s older brother was good friends with Phil Lesh, the Dead’s bassist.

At a Dead concert during Christmas weekend 1990, High Times reporter Steve Bloom was handed a flyer that read, “We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” Once High Times printed the story, accompanied by a photo of the flyer, it was game over… 420 was officially a thing.

What 420 has become

Instead of a chill day to get together with your friends and enjoy the wonder that is dank weed, 420 has become a day to scroll the internet or local dispensary menus for the best deals. On average, cannabis consumers plan to spend just under $150 on 4/20 alone, which for most of them, is equivalent to or more than their typical monthly spending.

“I think brands that associate themselves with cannabis kind of get that contact high. In other words, they’re just considered to be cooler by association,” said Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University. “As pot becomes more legal, more discussed, more interesting to people, more widely used, then 420 becomes more mainstream as well.”

This boost of “coolness” provided by cannabis translates into big money for companies that offer marketable products. Companies in the beauty industry can formulate a quick CBD lotion, offer it at a discount on 420, and they have a quick marketing campaign that can net thousands of dollars. It’s great when cannabis companies offer a token of appreciation to their customers which frequently comes in the form of a discount, but when everyone is trying to cash in on the 420 momentum, it can be a bit over the top. Some companies are choosing not to participate in the madness, and it is easy to see why.

One example is Scott Sundvor, CEO and co-founder of Space Coyote, a San Francisco-based infused joint maker who was thoroughly disappointed that what “started as a celebration of weed has degenerated into consumerism and bargain hunting at dispensaries,” he mentioned in a Forbes interview. He says that his company is encouraging consumers to be “less retail-obsessed” this holiday season. “This 420, we encourage everyone to get out in nature, light up a joint, and enjoy their day and this beautiful plant to the fullest.”

Evelyn LaChapelle, a program associate at the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit focused on cannabis criminal justice reform, believes 420 is a distraction from more important priorities. “Before going to prison I celebrated 420 with the rest of the thousands of people who celebrate every year,” she said. “After prison I realize that thousands of people around the country celebrate cannabis while 40,000 people still sit in prison for cannabis. The legal industry must do something to right this wrong.”

Overall, I think people are just tired of this “money rules all” society that we have become, and they’re searching for some deeper on many different levels. How you enjoy your free time certainly counts.

Speaking of Black Friday…

Similar trends are starting to happen in the retail world as well, with many companies beginning to boycott black Friday. Over the last couple of years, Apple, Costco, Crate & Barrel, IKEA, Nordstrom, Sam’s Club, Staples, and many other retailers are rejecting Black Friday in response to the “discount creep” that has quickly led to deals starting on Thursday, Thanksgiving of all days.

Some people refer to it as “Black Friday Eve”, “Black Thursday”, or “Gray Friday,” but many are somewhat disturbed by the blatant materialism being displayed on a holiday when we are supposed to give thanks for all that we do have. It’s irony to the max.

It is an incredibly smart and practical move on the companies’ parts, marketing masquerading as anti-marketing. On the surface, it’s a boycott that directly disadvantages them. However, it is viewed publicly as a “brave” and “moral” stance, so people who feel the same way about Black Friday are then more likely to support these companies. A study conducted by the research firm MarketLive found that roughly 65 percent of consumers “hate or dislike” the trend of retailers opening stores on Thanksgiving Day, and only 12 percent firmly support the idea of it.

Final thoughts

Again, deals aren’t a bad thing. They’re actually wonderful in my opinion – I’ll be stocking up at my local dispensary and we’ll have some amazing deals in our newsletters as well, but it’s important to remember they’re not everything. The real purpose of this holiday is togetherness among fellow stoners, so call up a friend, take a walk in nature, volunteer somewhere or get involved in your local cannabis activism community; whatever makes you feel like you’re truly seizing the holiday. Take those deals you get and share them with a loved one!

What are your plans for 4/20 this year? Drop us a line in the comment section below and make sure to subscribe to The CBD Flowers Weekly Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything this April 20th!

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.