Pot fans smoke, hike, party, go to jail during 4/20 holiday
Activists reflect on progress, contemplate new political tone
Posted: April 21, 2017 at 2:57 a.m.
SEATTLE -- From Capitol Hill to San Francisco's Hippie Hill, marijuana enthusiasts observed their 4/20 holiday Thursday with public smoke-outs, parties and -- in states where it's legal -- great deals on weed.
Before the clock hit 4:20 p.m., there were arrests in the nation's capital, as police took seven people into custody at a demonstration that involved handing out joints to congressional staff members.
One of the organizers, Nikolas Schiller, said police "decided to play politics" with the demonstration.
Pot fans in Los Angeles went for a cannabis-fueled hike, and in Portland, Maine, an author spent the afternoon giving away more than 200 grams of marijuana to a long line of fans.
Overcast skies and drizzle didn't stop thousands of people -- many in costume -- from gathering at a park near the Colorado Capitol.
At 4:20 p.m., they lit up and sent out a raucous cheer -- as well as a cloud of smoke that lingered in the humid air.
The annual celebration of cannabis culture gave activists an opportunity to reflect on how far they've come -- recreational use of marijuana is now legal in eight states and the nation's capital -- and on the national political tone, with officials from President Donald Trump's administration reprising talking points from the heyday of the war on drugs.
"We're looking at an attorney general who wants to bring America back into the 1980s in terms of drug policy," said Vivian McPeak, a founder of Hempfest in Seattle. "I'm skeptical they can put the cannabis genie back into the bottle."
Trump hasn't clarified what his approach to marijuana will be, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes the drug's legalization and this month ordered a review of the government's marijuana policy, which has included a largely hands-off approach in legal marijuana states.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently called marijuana "a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs" -- a view long held by drug opponents despite scant evidence of its validity.
This year's 4/20 party followed successful legalization campaigns in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, which joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as states that allow recreational marijuana. More than half of all states now allow medical marijuana.
In California, which voted to legalize marijuana last fall, tens of thousands of people flocked to events ranging from marijuana cooking classes to the annual bacchanal on Hippie Hill in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
Some revelers on Hippie Hill complained that the event was less free-spirited than in the past. Security officers checked IDs and turned away people who didn't have them, leading to some tense exchanges.
About two dozen pot fans in the Los Angeles area opted for a morning celebration, gathering about 9 a.m. at a trailhead in the Altadena foothills for "High'ke," a 2.5-mile trek that promised joints to everyone who made it to the 5,600-foot peak of Mount Lowe.
Anna Acosta, 49, said she hoped to revel in the "camaraderie of being out in nature with a bunch of nature-loving, tree-loving, like-minded people."
Pot shops in some legal marijuana states were offering discounts. In Alaska, though, regulators put a damper on promotions, warning retail shops about an "alarming amount of social media advertisements for 4/20 celebrations" that violate state rules against certain activities, such as games or competitions, that encourage pot sales.
A shop in Seattle was hosting a block party, and a nearby sex-toy business was offering a class about how marijuana can improve intimate relations.
Legalization opponents weren't going quietly. Smart Approaches to Marijuana said drug-policy experts and elected leaders convened in Atlanta for a conference featuring Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar under former President Bill Clinton, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
"Smart drug policy starts with science and research, not ideology or profit," McCaffrey said in a news release from the organization. Smart Approaches to Marijuana "embodies this belief by advocating for common-sense laws that protect American families and communities from the social and health consequences of marijuana legalization."
Separately, a study this week found that prescriptions for things like painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications dropped sharply in states that introduced a medical-marijuana program.
The study, by the University of Georgia's Ashley Bradford and W. David Bradford, largely validated a study the father-daughter team conducted last year regarding Medicare prescriptions. Last year's study showed that, offered the choice between taking medication prescribed by a doctor and self-medicating with pot, many older patients opted for the latter, though it was unclear whether the same results would have been produced for younger patients.
The study out this week showed that anti-nausea drug prescriptions through Medicaid fell by 17 percent. Antidepressant prescriptions fell 13 percent, while prescriptions for seizure and psychosis drugs fell 12 percent.
Prescriptions for painkillers fell by 11 percent, and opiate painkillers are behind much of the current drug overdose epidemic, according to the study.
"Patients and physicians in the community are reacting to the availability of medical marijuana as if it were medicine," the Bradfords conclude.
Information for this article was contributed by Gene Johnson, Ben Nuckols, Becky Bohrer, Patrick Whittle, Paul Elias and Christopher Weber of The Associated Press and by Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post.
A Section on 04/21/2017