What Does 420 Mean to You? Celebrating and Reflecting on the ‘High’ Holiday

Episode 237

Show Notes

How Women Across the Country Celebrate 420

This Saturday marks a special occasion for people who love weed: it’s 4/20! To celebrate the ‘high’ holiday, we’re diving into its unexpected history, which surprisingly includes a treasure map and the Grateful Dead. We’ll hear from women all across the country about their unique 4/20 experiences and what this day means to them. We hope you enjoy the show, however you choose to celebrate.

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[00:00:00] Ellen Scanlon: This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.

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[00:00:50] Kate Johnson: What 420 means to me is the one day a year that stoners get to come out of the closet. It’s a [00:01:00] counterculture celebration. It’s a peace celebration. It’s crowds of people gathering who share a common love of this peaceful, beautiful plant. And an understanding that she’s been misrepresented and weaponized.

[00:01:18] Kate Johnson: To suit the agendas of people in power. 

[00:01:23] Ellen Scanlon: Welcome to How to Do the Pot, a podcast helping you feel confident about cannabis. I’m your host, Ellen Scanlon.

[00:01:36] Ellen Scanlon: You just heard from Kate Johnson, a Wisconsin based cannabis educator. This Saturday, April 20th, marks weed’s biggest holiday, also known as 420. As is true with most holidays, people choose to experience it in their own unique way. And as Kate points out, [00:02:00] 420 is a counterculture celebration, a day to highlight the inequities in the plant’s history, and everything in between.

[00:02:09] Ellen Scanlon: Today, we’re going to hear all sorts of perspectives, women’s perspectives, on what 420 means to them. First, though, I’m going to trace the origins of the term 420 in case you need a good story to share at a party. So the story starts in the early 1970s with a group of five high school guys in San Rafael, California in Marin County, which is about 30 minutes from where I live in San Francisco.

[00:02:39] Ellen Scanlon: These guys were gifted a treasure map. by someone’s brother in law or someone’s brother in law’s brother in law. That person, the gifter, was in the military stationed at Point Reyes in Marin County, which is on federal land. He had apparently planted some weed and was growing it in a [00:03:00] very remote area.

[00:03:01] Ellen Scanlon: And it was even more remote in the 1970s. He started getting worried that his superior officers knew what was going on. So the mystery man created this map, handed it to these five high school kids and said, if you can find it, you can keep it. 420 was their meetup time to treasure hunt. And it eventually became their code for getting high.

[00:03:29] Ellen Scanlon: These friends also spent a lot of time listening to the Grateful Dead, who held their band practice in San Rafael. They liked to hang out backstage or at the same parties, and eventually one of them became the manager for Phil Lesh, a founding member of the Grateful Dead. The shorthand of 420 started to spread through Deadheads.

[00:03:53] Ellen Scanlon: And now, here we are with an international day to mark weed, not to mention a [00:04:00] daily time to smoke, all born from that Northern California hippie culture. While the term has its roots in counterculture, weed has spread far beyond that. I’m here to give you permission to celebrate Or not celebrate however you want.

[00:04:19] Ellen Scanlon: Today, you’ll hear from women who have made their own rituals partied too hard, have business interest in the day, and see it as a time to reflect on the plant’s. Complicated history. Happy four 20.

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[00:05:26] Ellen Scanlon: Kate Oles is an Ohio based executive vice president at Acreage Holdings. She has created her own special traditions for 420 around community and togetherness. 

[00:05:38] Kate Ols: 420 has always been very much a community event in my life. It’s one where everybody kind of gets together and that’s one of the real positives about it.

[00:05:46] Kate Ols: It’s intended to be kind of a very social gathering. I know a lot of times in the canvas industry people think of it as like, Oh, a great day for sales. But most people in my circles aren’t actually going to a dispensary on 420. They’re like, [00:06:00] Enjoying the fact that we’re going to hang out with all of our stoner friends and be bums on 420 and have a great experience.

[00:06:07] Kate Ols: Laugh, listen to some good music and celebrate the fact that we have a holiday. Most of my memories look that way and feel that way. It’s like a tradition, kind of like Thanksgiving. 

[00:06:18] Ellen Scanlon: Kate has a lot of fun with friends on 420. One memorable year, her dog got unexpectedly involved with the festivities. 

[00:06:28] Kate Ols: I came home, I was like, why is this dog a blob?

[00:06:32] Kate Ols: This is not normal or right. And it’s on 420. So like, it’s automatically bad. I have this blob dog and I’m obviously like devastated. Someone says like, Oh my God, this bowl used to be full and now it is empty. And I’m like, That’s what’s wrong with the dog. I touch his gums like it’s green slobber coming off, which tells me evidence is there.

[00:06:51] Kate Ols: And I just felt so bad. Thank God I didn’t go to the emergency vet because they would have been like, Cool, looks like you had a great day. Look at your precious [00:07:00] baby. So everyone made it out okay. Never been in that experience again, definitely make sure that everything is locked from here on out. And the dog is still a gem.

[00:07:09] Kate Ols: However, he will steal a nug if there’s like one sitting out somewhere without a doubt we’ll take it and run. So I guess it wasn’t that bad for him. 

[00:07:18] Ellen Scanlon: For Takesha Harvey, the Georgia based founder of Canicurious magazine and managing partner at Flower Hire, being open about her love of the plant is a big part of celebrating 420.

[00:07:31] Ellen Scanlon: For 

[00:07:31] Tekisha Harvey: me, 420 is a day to celebrate the plant, essentially. I think that, you know, a lot of people see it as a smoking holiday, but I see it as also if you’re in the know about the plants and All its goodness. It’s a day to kind of publicly celebrate with others about it. 

[00:07:51] Ellen Scanlon: Arizona based Dr. Shelley Persad, an author and chiropractor, believes it is a sacred day.

[00:07:59] Shelly Persad: For me, [00:08:00] 420 is a sacred, holy day. Celebrating and honoring the birth of the higher self of cannabis. And I am by cannabis in sacred ceremony with rituals and an intention to drop into my body, assisting my endocannabinoid system and restoring me back to a state of balance or divine union.

[00:08:26] Ellen Scanlon: California based Caitlin Krebs started her career in the biotech and life sciences industry before founding cannabis biotech company, Nalu Bio. Her first year working in cannabis, she went to a 420 event with the legendary cannabis advocate Steve D’Angelo, who is often called the father of the legal industry.

[00:08:48] Caitlyn Krebs: So, when I joined the cannabinoid and cannabis industry, I attended an event on 420. Steve D’Angelo was kind of moderating it and he was just like [00:09:00] popping THC and I think he did a thousand milligrams while we were on camera. And I’m sitting there kind of new to it thinking, is he going to be okay? And he was fine.

[00:09:10] Caitlyn Krebs: He just continued to do interviews, to moderate. And so that was actually one of the more memorable 420s when I started in this industry. It was kind of the godfather of the cannabis industry sharing his experience of 420 and kind of creating that, that day and that time. 

[00:09:28] Ellen Scanlon: For people who work in the cannabis industry, 420 is a big day for deals, events, and for driving sales.

[00:09:36] Ellen Scanlon: California based Whitney Conroy is the chief commerce officer at Phylos Biosciences. With her background as a business strategist, she gets very curious on 420. She’s watching for federal regulations and checking out dispensary discounts. Whitney feels a bit nervous about what might happen this year. 

[00:09:58] Whitney Conroy: I think it’s an [00:10:00] amazing time for us to be able to, to really elevate the conversation around cannabis.

[00:10:05] Whitney Conroy: I’ve noticed that a lot of politicians, like they tweet at 420, you know, in the afternoon, they make announcements on April 20th, but really has become a part of the national conversation and the national culture. This year will be a big year for cannabis announcements, and I’m interested to see whether the current government leans into 420 this year.

[00:10:26] Whitney Conroy: I have a personal hypothesis. The only reason why I don’t think maybe an announcement will come is because it’s on a Saturday. So I’m watching 420 this year from a regulatory standpoint. From the retail standpoint, I think we’ve seen a lot of promotions, and it makes me as like a strategist kind of nervous because People are pushing pricing down already on an everyday level and now 50 percent off, 70 percent off.

[00:10:52] Whitney Conroy: I live in Los Angeles, so like I’ll drive by a dispensary and it’s literally like 50 percent off every day. And I’m like, Oh God, what are you going to do on 420? So [00:11:00] I’m actually a little trepidatious this 420, but I love that it has become part of the conversation nationally and that people really are using it as an opportunity to bring cannabis to the mainstream.

[00:11:12] Ellen Scanlon: The unfortunate truth about the cannabis industry is that many companies are struggling financially. So these heavy discounts at dispensaries may be a sign of a business trying to hang on. I just read that San Francisco’s annual Hippie Hill, an iconic 420 festival in Golden Gate Park, was cancelled due to a lack of sponsorships as well as Parks and Rec budget cuts.

[00:11:37] Ellen Scanlon: Have you celebrated on Hippie Hill before? I’d love to hear about it.

[00:11:49] Ellen Scanlon: Christy Palmer is the California based co founder of cannabis edible brand, Kiva Confections. She is a pioneer in the industry. Kiva was founded in [00:12:00] 2010. Christy shares memories of how big of a hustle 420 was in the early days of the California cannabis industry. 

[00:12:09] Kristi Palmer: In Kiva’s early days was like all about getting out in front of the consumer in stores with free samples under any and all circumstances, right?

[00:12:19] Kristi Palmer: It was like, get out there, get in front of people. And one year we kind of had a rule that like, if you worked at Kiva, whether you were a packager or a bookkeeper or whatever, you were going to a dispensary and you were going to introduce the brand to the people and the consumers that came in the door.

[00:12:34] Kristi Palmer: Yeah. And I mean, it was just a free samples. You could do that in the absence of regulation back then. Today, it’s a totally different ballgame. It’s much more, I would say, buttoned up holiday than it ever used to be. 

[00:12:49] Ellen Scanlon: For many, 420 has become a day to think about the injustices of the past and present, and to reflect on how to change the industry going [00:13:00] forward.

[00:13:01] Ellen Scanlon: Phoebe Dupre, the Illinois based founder and CEO of Goddess Growers, remembers celebrating 420 in high school and the excitement around the holiday. Now that she works in the industry, her perspective has changed. 

[00:13:16] Phoebe Depree: Now that I’m working in the cannabis industry, we have a brand of edibles that are just launching in Ohio and it’s more of a reflective day to be honest and a chance to look at what we’ve done as a company.

[00:13:29] Phoebe Depree: To date, and then even more, I think a lot about the social equity issues and how there’s an entire industry and group of people who are benefiting from cannabis, this wonderful plant that was misunderstood, miscategorized for decades. It’s uncomfortable because people are benefiting, but then there’s a whole group of people that were miscategorized.

[00:13:53] Phoebe Depree: put in jail and their entire lives were ruined. So today I think about the work that [00:14:00] needs to be done and is being done to right that ship. It is celebratory, I suppose, in a way, because there’s been a lot of ground that’s been broken, but it does bother me when I think about the people that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

[00:14:18] Phoebe Depree: Day has changed in its meaning for me. So maybe less about a celebration and more about how as an industry moving forward, we can continue to address social equity issues. It’s not only around social equity, but also responsible use of cannabis and getting the public to have a broader understanding of its medicinal properties and, and also the potential risks and safe consumption.

[00:14:45] Ellen Scanlon: There are more than 40, 000 people still in prison for cannabis crimes. Disproportionately, it’s black and brown people who are currently incarcerated for a plant that is legal in so many states. [00:15:00] Takesha Harvey thinks 420 could be a better High Holiday by reflecting more on this harsh reality. 

[00:15:07] Tekisha Harvey: Instead of just celebrating getting high or being stoned, which there’s absolutely nothing wrong with, but celebrating the plant itself and all of the people who have worked to normalize the plant, but also all the, the restorative justice work that’s going on around it and celebrate all the people who’ve come before us and who’ve been persecuted for this plant.

[00:15:29] Tekisha Harvey: I think it could be a better celebratory moment, but also a reflective moment. 

[00:15:35] Ellen Scanlon: Akwasi Owusu Bempa, a professor at the University of Toronto and Tahirah Ramatullah, a cannabis investor, wrote a great book about this called Waiting to Inhale, Cannabis Legalization and the Fight for Racial Justice. Check out episode 213 to learn more.

[00:15:54] Ellen Scanlon: Today, Akwasi gives us a quick history lesson and shares what he thinks every cannabis [00:16:00] consumer should know about the war on drugs. 

[00:16:03] Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: We also need to recognize that our early drug laws came out of attempts to control both certain racial populations as well as social groups who were seen to be problematic.

[00:16:15] Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: So, you know, our first drug laws really targeted. Chinese people and opium use, uh, Mexican people with respect to cannabis and later black people, uh, and the association with jazz. And then also populations, groups, hippies, for example, that we’re seeing as, as being a threat or a danger to mainstream society.

[00:16:33] Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: And so our drug laws were never initially devised and certainly have not been promoted and expanded really to protect the public in the way that we think they have. If that was the intention, I think we would have taken a very different approach. There are a few things that I, I want every cannabis consumer to know about the war on drugs.

[00:16:50] Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: First of all, that it’s been a hugely failed policy. If the goal was to reduce drug use and the supply of drugs, Uh, and to stop criminal activity around, [00:17:00] uh, drugs and drug trafficking, then it’s been a huge failure. You know, if you’re a politician who’s campaigned on a tough on drugs agenda, if you’re a law enforcement or, or justice agency who’s benefited from the money that’s come from fighting a war on drugs, or if you’re a, cartel or other organized crime group who’s benefited from the money being made, then it’s been successful in your eyes.

[00:17:20] Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: But for the most part, it has been an abject failure. We spent billions of dollars waging this war, trillions, in fact, of dollars waging this war, and our society is no better for it. In fact, I think we’re much worse off.

[00:17:38] Ellen Scanlon: Janet Matula is the California based head of business development and compliance for Gelato Caneco. She’s been working in the industry for a long time. On 420, she thinks it’s important to focus on how far we’ve come. 

[00:17:53] Janet Matula: I really didn’t know much about 420 till I got into the cannabis business, which was what [00:18:00] 12 years ago or so.

[00:18:01] Janet Matula: And in my mind, because I’m one of the old timers, I would love to see 420 being more about education, more about breadth and the depth of. Cannabis of topicals and the whole history and this celebrating where we are today versus where we were under Nixon and Reagan and just say no and schedule one because it has come so far, particularly women.

[00:18:34] Janet Matula: And there’s so many things to be celebrated besides a date and time. It’s to me another day. I mean, we make a big deal of it around here because we also have a retail, so we’ll be doing a big sort of celebration there. For me personally, it’s just another day, just another time on the 

[00:18:52] Ellen Scanlon: clock. Kate Johnson, the Wisconsin based cannabis coach and educator, sums up a lot of the different sides [00:19:00] of celebrating the high holiday.

[00:19:03] Kate Johnson: What 420 means to me is the one day a year that stoners get to come out of the closet. It’s a counterculture celebration. It’s a peace celebration. It’s crowds of people gathering who share a common love of this peaceful, beautiful plant. And an understanding that she’s been misrepresented and weaponized to suit the agendas of people in power.

[00:19:34] Kate Johnson: People have lost their lives and livelihoods. She deserves to be celebrated. She deserves to be cherished. She deserves to be in the hands of the many. It’s the recognition that the world would be a much more peaceful place if more people used cannabis. And it’s a celebration of all of the gifts that she brings to us.

[00:19:56] Ellen Scanlon: Lots of great stories, and thank you to everyone who [00:20:00] shared them with us. Happy 420, and I hope you enjoy whatever you choose to do. At How to Do the Pot, we celebrate that legal cannabis is accessible to more and more people. So, 420 or any other day, cheers to weed. What am I doing this year? On 420, I’ll be celebrating my son’s birthday.

[00:20:25] Ellen Scanlon: His actual birthday is April 22nd, Earth Day, and because of that, it kind of overshadows 420 for me. I love Earth Day, and it is still connected to honoring magical plants. If you like this episode, please share it with a friend. We love new listeners and are here to help everyone feel confident about cannabis.

[00:20:52] Ellen Scanlon: Thank you for listening to how to do the pot for lots more information and past episodes, visit do [00:21:00] the pot. com. Are you one of the thousands of people who love how to do the pot’s newsletter? If you’re not getting it, please sign up at do the pot. com. And if you like how to do the pot, please rate and review us on Apple podcasts.

[00:21:15] Ellen Scanlon: It really helps people find the show. Thank you to writer Joanna Silver and producers Maddy Fair and Nick Patry. I’m Ellen Scanlon and stay tuned for more of how to do the pot.




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