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A new 420 meaning: time for pro-marijuana forces to get serious

In the past, the meaning of 420 – April 20, 'National Weed Day' – has been clear: 'Have a great time.' But this year, with the pro-marijuana movement making headway in several states, some 420 rallies are taking on a more serious goal: advocacy and education.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / April 20, 2010

Steve DeAngelo tends to marijuana plants at Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif., which is billed as the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world. With California set to vote on legalizing marijuana for recreational use – and other states close to following suit – some advocates are trying to change the meaning of 420, 'National Weed Day' to something more serious.

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The live music at the pro-marijuana 420 Rally in Denver was, perhaps, not much a surprise – with acts such as Tha Docta, Juba Juba, and Hypnautic on the playbill.

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But the meaning of Denver's 420 event was calculated for a purpose beyond the “get high and party” occasion that "National Weed Day" – April 20 – has traditionally been.

Speakers included a former judge, who is now the speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), as well as Warren Edson, author of a legislative amendment regarding marijuana use. Moreover, the event was to be conducted as a formal public assembly, with a benediction, keynote speaker, and closing.

The push to legalize marijuana is gaining steam, with California voting in November on a measure that would be the nation's first to approve the plant for recreational use, and Oregon and Washington State are attempting to qualify initiatives.

It is becoming a pivotal moment in the countrywide acceptance of marijuana use, say both supporters and detractors, and many pro-marijuana advocates are hoping that 420 can become a moment of more serious public advocacy and education.

“This is usually a moment that marijuana users treat like a national holiday – where they can come out of the closet, stop hiding, and have a great time,” says Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “This year, they are trying to harness the event to win the hearts and minds of Americans to advance the cause of legalization for both recreational and medical reasons.”

Trying to change the marijuana stigma

Even though polls show that 80 percent of Americans support the idea of marijuana for medical uses, public officials are reluctant to shepherd marijuana legislation for fear of being called “soft on drugs” by political opponents, says Mr. Stroup.

These 420 events, if held properly, can help further the cause by legitimizing the movement, he says.

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