By Dwayne Gladden / The Real News Network

April 20, the semi-official day of celebration for cannabis is here. The tradition of “420,” which started in the early ‘70s as a group of Bay Area high schoolers meeting at 4:20 PM to get high,  is now celebrated annually and internationally on April 20, and has evolved over the past half century into part day of protest against drug prohibition and part carnival of cannabis capitalism and consumption.

But the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lock-downs have cancelled most 420 events across the country and though cannabis is deemed “essential” in most states where it is legal and thus remains available for purchase, state governmentsmedical experts, and even activist organizations like NORML all issued “stay home this 4/20” directives, imploring cannabis enthusiasts to prioritize public health over consumerism and recreation. And for good reason: mass public gatherings significantly increase the risk of infection and excessive cannabis smoking compromises one’s ability to fight the respiratory symptoms of the virus. 

The ongoing pandemic and resulting cancelation of 420 presents an opportunity to reinvent the high holiday of cannabis, and perhaps even the cannabis movement. As coronavirus affects us all but infects and kills black and brown Americans and prisoners at disproportionately higher rates, now is the time to stop and reflect on the history of the 420 tradition and to reinvent its meaning and practice both during the pandemic and moving forward. Rather than privileging the interests of Big Bud over public health and social justice, the tradition of 420 should be rerooted in ethical consumption and equity.