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U.S. 4/20 cannabis parties, festivals go virtual

By Jean Lotus
U.S. 4/20 cannabis parties, festivals go virtual
Cannabis events for April 20, like the 420 Hippie Hill event in 2017 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, have been moved online because of COVID-19 restrictions. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

DENVER, April 17 (UPI) -- COVID-19 concerns have snuffed out public celebrations of marijuana on Monday, an unofficial holiday for smoking cannabis, driving some activities online across the United States.

The significance of April 20, or 4:20 p.m., as a clandestine time to use marijuana is unclear, but became underground code language, according to author Shirley Halperin's book, Pot Culture: The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language and Life.

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Since adult-use cannabis has been legalized across the country, more outdoor festivals and events on the date have sprung up. But this year, the pandemic has shut them down.

Denver's Mile High 420 Festival was cancelled after the shutdown of Civic Center Park, but local dispensaries and cannabis organizations are hosting activities online this weekend and Monday.

RELATED Medical marijuana 'essential' in some states during coronavirus outbreak

They range from stoned painting yoga and cannabis cooking classes to local comedians and old-time string music.

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At the Coffee Joint, Denver's only public social consumption lounge, extensive holiday preparations featuring a "Roaring 20s" theme this weekend and Monday had to be rearranged for a virtual audience, co-owner Rita Tsalyuk said.

She said the coronavirus pandemic has made her reconsider the purpose of the business, and she now considers cannabis essential for people to cope with COVID-19-related stress.

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"People are treating mental health issues with cannabis and alcohol, and that's fine, as long as they're doing it responsibly," Tsalyuk said. "Our brains can only absorb so much negative information."

During COVID-19 lockdown rules, cannabis businesses are considered essential services in many recreational and medical marijuana states such as Colorado, California, Illinois and Florida.

This year on Monday, cannabis users are encouraged to "Get on your porch ... in your backyard ... on your roof ... wherever," at 4:20 p.m. while maintaining social distancing, online group 4/20 Front Porch Smoke Out said.

RELATED 'Problem' marijuana use has declined in the U.S.

Organizers in March cancelled San Francisco's historic "Hippie Hill" outdoor festival, which had been scheduled for Monday at Golden Gate Park and typically draws 15,000 participants.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed warned potential outdoor cannabis party-goers to stay away from San Francisco or risk being ticketed.

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"To be clear: 4/20 will not be tolerated this year," Breed tweeted. "Do not come to San Francisco to celebrate. We will cite people. We will arrest people if necessary.

"Order food. Watch Netflix. Stay home and stay safe," she said.

In Illinois, where recreational cannabis was legalized in January, many dispensaries and event organizers were looking forward to the first April 20. But now they've pivoted to virtual.

Chicago-based Dispensary 33 will use the social media site Twitch for online events including "cooking with cannabis, blowing glass, bending neon, DJ sets, drag and performance art," the company's website said.

National marijuana legalization group NORML, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, encouraged cannabis users to stay inside and not throw parties.

"Historically people have gathered to celebrate and this year, Americans are facing challenges well beyond marijuana prohibition," said Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML's development director.

"That includes being compliant with state and federal guidelines during this pandemic, so we're recommending that consumers not congregate in groups indoors or outdoors," they said.

The organization also recommended not sharing marijuana devices and considering changing how THC is consumed, Pedini said.

"Because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, you might want to limit exposure to combustive smoke and try edibles and tinctures," they said.

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The organization recommends ordering cannabis online and avoiding crowds at dispensaries to maintain social distancing.

NORML also warned against using black-market THC vape products, which have been linked to an outbreak of lung injury and "may be tainted with mold or adulterants."

"There are a number of options for supporters of marijuana reform to participate in concerts and virtual events throughout the day," Pedini said.

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