Medill senior Joel Handley is the vice president of NU NORML-SSDP (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws—Students for Sensible Drug Policy).
Happy belated 4/20 from NU NORML-SSDP, Northwestern’s home to the ever-growing drug policy reform movement. We hope that you enjoyed the day and played it safe so that you can join us this week as we present Drug Week here on campus. Every night, Monday through Thursday, we’ll be hosting a different event to entertain and educate you about the harms of continuing the “War on Drugs.” Like alcohol prohibition before it, drug prohibition only exacerbates the problems it hopes to solve, a topic we’ll be discussing later this week. First, though, a little history of Monday’s epic holiday:
As cannabis lore tells it, the celebration of 4/20 has its origins in San Rafael, Calif., where a group of delinquent students used to meet like clockwork at 4:20 p.m. to smoke joints after school. Now we make a day of it, but the ritual remains the same, with close friends meeting in some discreet location to enjoy a pleasing, but prohibited, herb.
One difference is that today’s observance extends far outside delinquent circles. The once strictly-subculture holiday grows more ubiquitous each year, with every head bringing along three square friends to the festivities. It happens even here at our sheltered, elite university where otherwise law-abiding, straight-laced Wildcats are sneaking the high back into their higher education.
Weed may be legal again soon, which is, of course, beyond wonderful, but one undesirable consequence is that corporate America will co-opt this holiday. When such harbingers of mainstream opinion such as columnists for the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist are calling for legalization, you know the time is nigh. Sadly, in a few years, 4/20 will be just another brazen consumer holiday with TV specials, weeklong sales and Michael Buble singing Bob Marley’s greatest hits. Did anyone catch Family Guy’s Episode 420 or CNBC’s Marijuana, Inc. on Sunday? It’s already started — so I hope you enjoyed 4/20’s sacred charm while it lasts.
As many of you partook in the sacrament yesterday, I hope you took some time to ponder how that grass found its way into your lungs. Did it come from bloody, drug war-torn Mexico? Gang-ridden Chicago streets? Some clandestine grow house out in the suburbs? Or was it shipped from California, that Mecca of medicinal-strength marijuana?
Whatever your source, it’s good to be an informed consumer — to realize that before your bud found relative safety in our college bubble, poor souls along the supply chain got arrested, jailed, some even killed, so that you could pack your bong and blow off class. This is why drug policy reform is important — not so college kids like us can get high without worrying about cops or CAs, but so millions of people around the world currently working in an unregulated and dangerous industry can find protection under the law. Use 4/20 and the rest of Drug Week not to stay high, but to get involved in the movement against the Drug War.
Holidays aside, drug policy reform is serious business. For all of you who don’t partake, know that we want you — need you — to be involved. Pot puns, references and symbols are just so easy to use. We at NU NORML-SSDP probably rely on them too much, trying to get a rise out of you one way or another. But as much as we’d like to imagine the pot leaf as some kind of bat symbol, we know it can be a turn off to others and that it doesn’t represent all our beliefs. Our branding consultant tears out her hair when we speak.
If you’re interested in social justice, environmental sustainability, cooperative economics or healthcare reform, know that there’s a place for you at NU NORML-SSDP. Drug policy is at the root of some of the most pressing problems of our time: poverty, inequality, gun crime and failing schools. If you want to make the world a better place, there’s no better way to start than to take up the fight against insane prohibition. Well that, or help bring peace to the Middle East — not that these causes are exclusive, but comparatively, to me at least, adding a few dozen drugs to the hundreds we already regulate seems a lot more realistic.