420 day arrives in the wake of California’s legalization

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Thursday is 4/20 and here in the heart of California cannabis country it should need no introduction as the nation’s unofficial — but widely celebrated — pot smoker’s day.
And for the first time since April 20 was inextricably linked with weed nearly a half century ago at a Marin County high school, Thursday the state’s cannabis consumers — who number about 4 million — can legally indulge.There were signs this week that many intended to do so.

“I’m gonna medicate very heavily,” said Benjamin Crain, a Napa man who was shopping at a Santa Rosa smoke shop.

Crain said he inhales pot medicinally to ease chronic knee pain and recreationally to, well, get high.

“It’s the gateway drug to the refrigerator,” he said, making light of the disputed assertion that pot leads to harder drugs mixed with the time-tested truism that stoners crave snacks.

“And to sleep,” added his girlfriend, Juliann Crane, citing marijuana’s soporific influence.

Nearly 8 million California voters in November made it legal for adults age 21 and up to possess an ounce of weed and to grow six plants at home by adopting Proposition 64 by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.

“Four-20 is a celebration of a culture, an awareness and a lifestyle,” said Alexander Carpenter, a cannabis industry consultant who heads the Sonoma County Cultivation Group.

It’s also worth applauding the emergence of the county’s potent pot industry from legal shadows into an era of legitimacy, said Joe Munson, a Forestville medical cannabis grower.

“Everybody’s happy that the cops aren’t going to be showing up any more,” he said.

There are about 9,000 cannabis industry members in the county, including about 5,000 growers, according to the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, which counts 260 members.

The value of the statewide marijuana industry has been estimated at $7 billion, and officials expect the taxes built into Proposition 64 will generate $1 billion a year, while Sonoma County’s pot business taxes, approved by voters in March, are expected to raise $6 million to start.

Along with taxation comes a labyrinth of regulation, including state and local permitting schemes for growers and other marijuana businesses, while smokers have still limited freedom to savor the psychoactive weed.


You can’t, for example, consume cannabis in public nor carry it openly while driving or riding in a vehicle. And you won’t be able to buy it without a doctor’s recommendation until at least January 2018, when the state expects to begin issuing commercial licenses.

John Hurley, general manager of the Mighty Quinn, a Santa Rosa Avenue smoke shop, said legalization was “not that big a step for California.”

Marijuana was readily available and widely accepted before Proposition 64, taking some of the novelty off Thursday’s occasion, he said. “The jubilation is balanced by the regulation,” Hurley said.

Still, his store, along with other local smoke shops and medical marijuana dispensaries, hopes to make 4/20 memorable.

Mighty Quinn, which sells glass pot pipes and water pipes ranging from $4.99 to $3,000, has a storewide sale Thursday, along with give-aways, a glass-blowing demonstration and a rolling contest using stale pipe and cigarette tobacco, which Hurley said is harder to handle than fresh pot.

Carpenter, the growers’ consultant, said it is “naive and foolish” to consider marijuana legalized in California. Some criminal penalties have been removed, he said, but in many cases they were replaced by civil penalties, along with “explicit restrictions that are even more stringent.” 

Critics fault the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for prohibiting commercial “cottage grows” of up to 25 plants in rural neighborhoods outside city boundaries, a regulation that effectively displaces about 2,000 growers.

Supervisors took the action in response to strident protests from rural residents over the intrusion of strangers and fences obscuring presumed marijuana operations. County officials, acknowledging they are in “uncharted territory,” have said they may adjust the regulations in the future. 

Santa Rosa’s intention to ban all outdoor pot gardens citywide, a move the City Council is expected to make official May 2, will constrain the newfound right under state law to grow one’s own, Carpenter contended.

Indoor cultivation, which local governments may not restrict under Proposition 64, typically produces a much smaller crop and consumes more electricity than plants raised under the sun, he said.

City officials have expressed concern over the odor and safety issues resulting from an anticipated proliferation of private pot gardens.

But Thursday there is still cause for celebrating “the integrity and joy of the cannabis community,” Carpenter said.

Prime time for firing up a bowl, a bong or a joint Thursday is 4:20 p.m., although hard-core stoners have been known to kick off the holiday at 4:20 a.m.

San Francisco’s chaotic 4/20 pot party on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park has morphed this year into a city-permitted event, with sponsors, fences and portable toilets.

However, at UC Santa Cruz, where thousands of smokers mass on a meadow, the campus police chief has warned that, like last year, there will be “increased law enforcement presence,” with cops looking for marijuana and other drug violations, impaired drivers and unauthorized sales of merchandise, food or services.

Four-20 has woven its way into the establishment, as well, by the designation of a bill that clarified the state’s ground-breaking medical marijuana law as SB 420.


There’s even a beer for 4/20 bottled seasonally by Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing Co. called The Waldos’ Special Ale. Described as “the dankest and hoppiest beer ever made by Lagunitas,” the light brown brew packs a heavyweight punch at 11.9 percent alcohol.

It’s named for the San Rafael High School students, who called themselves Waldos, and met on campus at 4:20 p.m. one afternoon in 1971 to go looking for an alleged secret garden of marijuana near Point Reyes.

The Waldos never found any weed, but their ongoing use of “4/20” as code to go light up spread around the school and eventually to the culture at large.

Craig Litwin, a Sebastopol cannabis consultant, gives the day high marks.

“For me, 4/20 celebrates cannabis, the most diverse plant known to humans,” he said. “One that provides medical relief, brings joyful recreation and can become thousands of essential industrial products.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.