By Michelle Fitzsimmons
City News Reporter
Not even cancelled bus and shuttle services or a lack of available parking could spoil students’ resolve to smoke pot at Porter Meadow last Sunday.
In the warm spring sunshine, scores of people hiked up Empire Grade or found hidden paths to the meadow, trekking like glassy-eyed pilgrims on a journey to their promised land. April 20, known as 4/20, is a day of celebration in cannabis culture.
Last Thursday, UC Santa Cruz Vice Chancellor Felicia E. McGinty sent a mass e-mail to students regarding the event unsanctioned by the university. Expressing safety concerns, she outlined measures the university would be taking to effectively prevent people from gathering on the notorious day.
Jim Burns, the head of public relations at UCSC, said that the restrictions were effective in keeping revelers at bay.
“We don’t like that our campus attracts people whose only reason for being here is to participate in an illegal activity,” Burns said.
At least 100 parking tickets were given out and about 50 cars were turned away, Burns said.
Some students said that despite the administration’s intentions, the e-mail backfired.
“I think the e-mail made people want to go even more,” third-year Heather Ley said.
Adam Kennedy, a fourth-year philosophy major, said that the event was even bigger this year than in years past.
“There are at least a thousand more people than last year,” Kennedy said, drumming on a bongo.
In recent years, the Porter Meadow has become something of a circus on “National Pot-Smoking Day.” Vendors have set up shop in the crowd, capitalizing on dry-mouthed people’s need for water and munchies and hawking “420 Santa Cruz” t-shirts. Last year, three bands performed for a crowd of 5,000 people, as estimated by McGinty in her cautionary e-mail.
This year, however, the droves of students that streamed in from every corner of the meadow found only drum and peace circles. Non-UCSC students joined the caravan to the meadow and partook in what might be the biggest event to occur on campus all year.
Angela, a South African student studying at Cabrillo College, was all smiles Sunday afternoon.
“This is my first 4/20 in Santa Cruz,” she said. “I’ve heard so much about it that I just had to come and see what it was about.”
The occasion is annually celebrated outside the smoky Porter Meadow bubble, as well as various ways across the country. The Meadow wasn’t even the only place to be in Santa Cruz on Sunday afternoon.
WAMM, the Santa Cruz-based Wo/Men Alliance for Medical Marijuana, held their 15th anniversary at the Dakota, a bar in downtown Santa Cruz, on April 20.
“Four-twenty is about recreational smoking,” said Mike Corral, co-founder of WAMM. “But it’s a good opportunity for WAMM to use a date that is universally recognized to further the cause of medical marijuana.”
WAMM, along with other groups, has appropriated the day to raise issues regarding medical marijuana rights and legalization.
Just as organizations like WAMM show that the holiday isn’t just for getting high, the Porter Meadow celebration has proven to be more than just for stoners. Over the years, 4/20 has grown into such an iconic social gathering that many students feel it is an integral part of being a student at UCSC, and must be experienced at least once.
“I’ve never gone. I don’t smoke. But yeah, it’s part of the Santa Cruz experience,” Corey Vu, a UCSC fourth-year, said the Friday before the event. “Hopefully I’ll go on Sunday because it’s my last year.”
*In the Beginning, There was Smoke*: According to popular legend, in 1971, a group of about 12 students at San Rafael High School in California, self-dubbed the “Waldos,” would meet every day at 4:20 p.m. to smoke behind a statue of Louis Pasteur.
Eventually, the term found its way into the Waldos’ everyday speech. “420 Louis!” was hollered down the halls of San Rafael High School when members wanted to salute each other.
It soon became code for other things. Instead of saying, “Dude, do I look stoned?” in the middle of class, members would ask each other, “420?”
Others believe that the phrase “420” took root thanks to the Grateful Dead. Others attribute it to a police code for marijuana violations or the number of active chemicals in the plant; however, neither are accurate. Regardless of the true story, as the “420” slang seeped into drug culture, the original meaning (to meet up and smoke a bowl) remained intact.
No one knows when UCSC’s Porter Meadow became the place to be on 4/20 in Santa Cruz.
But Paula, whom City on a Hill Press agreed to identify only by her first name, remembers when the scene exploded.
“My first year, I was at Porter. I was there all day. Me and my friends set up shop, barbecued, and around 4 p.m., it got really crowded,” said Paula, a 2007 Porter graduate now living in Los Angeles. “That same year, Rolling Stone published an article about 4/20 at UC Santa Cruz and after that, it totally blew up.”
Entitled “The Most Stoned Students on the Most Stoned Day on the Most Stoned Campus on Earth,” Vanessa Grigoriadis’ article may indeed have led directly to the day becoming such a significant holiday at UCSC.
Following Rolling Stone’s cover story, Paula witnessed an influx of stoners from all over the country who started coming to the pot Mecca they believed Santa Cruz to be.
“I was in shock [that] it was such a big deal because, you know, at Porter, pot is kind of an everyday thing,” Paula said. “But for an internationally credited magazine to recognize this event was crazy.”
Burns, who has been at UCSC for 24 years and acted as one of its main spokespersons for the last several, remembers that 4/20 at UCSC didn’t start out as the event it is today.
“I can recall this event taking place in a much smaller way many, many years ago,” Burns said. “Smaller defined as a half a dozen students outside of McHenry Library. I remember just walking by and smelling marijuana and thinking, ‘Oh, it must be 4/20.’”
*4/20: It’s All in How You Look at It*: Because possessing and using marijuana is illegal without a medical prescription, the practices and principles by which students celebrate 4/20 are for all intents and purposes countercultural.
Despite the rebellious nature of the day, most students seem uninterested in politicizing the event. However, some are certainly aware of the legalization and decriminalization issues surrounding marijuana.
“Some people come to support legalization,” said second-year Wendy Kessman as she made her way through College Eight to the meadow. “But there are more people getting together to smoke pot. It’s definitely a mix.”
Joseph Dizon, a first-year Porter student, said that the students gathering in a peaceful manner is a political statement in itself.
“If the government can see that there are so many people here, and it’s really rare you get that many people together doing the same thing, it’s a good representation of people getting together and not hurting anyone,” Dizon said. “Everyone’s chillin’, everyone’s having fun and content with how they are.”
Most students treat the gathering as a chance to come together and communally participate in an activity for which Santa Cruz is infamous.
Ron Fischer is the outreach coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). For him, 4/20 is a day to have fun, celebrate and also raise awareness. However, for real change to happen, action needs be taken every day, he said.
“If we all do silly things [on 4/20] and on 4/21 don’t do anything to change the laws, then raising awareness on 4/20 isn’t going to be very effective,” Fischer said. “Inspiring activism is not a bad thing — it’s how we choose to use it. I’m greatly encouraged by all the people, events, sites and challenges to the law and current establishments that occur on the day.”
Fischer believes that 4/20 has helped bring non-smokers into the legalization fold because they are able to see that marijuana use is not dangerous and millions of people participate in celebrations.
“It’s important for a movement in general to reach out to the wider public,” he said. “We can use it as a stepping-stone and move away from usual suspects.”
Corral, of WAMM, felt similarly about the holiday’s potential to move into the mainstream, but says the day is still very countercultural.
“In order to bring in more mainstreamers, a.k.a. people who don’t smoke pot or recognize 4/20 as a day of celebration, we need a refined 4/20 concept,” Corral said. “Right now it’s kind of an outlaw thing. We need to show that marijuana is a victimless crime the government shouldn’t be poking its nose into.”
Although several states have marijuana laws on the books, Corral can imagine one sure way for marijuana to become legal in this country.
“If we took to the streets tomorrow — everyone — and lit up a joint and said, ‘Look at me, I’m smoking and enjoying myself and not hurting everyone,’ the police wouldn’t be able to do anything about it,” he said. “What are the feds gonna do about it? Then real change would happen.”
Whether people decide to politicize 4/20 or tie other issues to their celebrations, when it comes down to it, April 20 is about appreciating marijuana and community.
Dizon put it simply.
“I think 4/20 represents a time when everyone can get together, light it up, and be happy,” he said. “You think about nothing else and have fun. What a weekend should be.”