420 and Social Proofs

420 and the Culture of Marijuana

The 20th April is a meaningful date to many.

Of course given the history of the world, it won’t take much to pull out something apparently significant, purely by chance, and link it to such a date.  For example, Adolf Hitler was born on 20th April, 1889.  Delving into confirmation biases and relatively prime numbers for mistaken numerology, is a topic for another time.

Rather the 20th April here, will first be morphed into April 20, then converted into 420, and maybe 4/20 if need be.  And yes, guilty of using numerology as charged.  Although the whole idea of the 420 here is linked to not being charged.

At 4:20pm on 4/20, stoners across North America, meaning the US and Canada, lit up their joints to advocate for the legalisation of marijuana.  Presumably with smoking this weed, some did actually inhale as well.

The origins of 420 are blurred (perhaps it’s actually 4/20 vision) behind a deep purple haze and there’s smoke on the water.  The term “420” has been used as code for all sorts of marijuana-related activities.  From supposedly police code for pot-smoking in progress; to nods for concert-goers that weed would be in plentiful supply at the gig; or to separate the wasted stoners from the marijuana-smokers that use it to enhance their lives.  Arguably the origin of the 420 ritual began in the early 1970s, where a group of North Californian teenagers smoked cannabis every day at 4:20pm.  Apparently the original 1971 group of pot-smoking San Rafael High School students would meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20pm and light up their joints.  Or so claims a man going by the name of Waldo Steve, purportedly one of these original Waldos.

So that’s why Waldo is hiding?  Or he can’t be found because he changed his name and now people want to know where’s Wally?  Speaking of name changes, there’s also Snoop Dogg, who is now to be known as Snoop Lion.

This may follow a routine like Puff Daddy…

Anyway, Snoop [insert name here] had his marijuana celebration, the Snoop Lion 420 Festival, cancelled at a mansion in the Hollywood Hills after neighbours complained about the noise and where cars were parked.  Snoop was reportedly extremely co-operative, possibly quite mellow as well, with the police as the party was shut down.

Bury Me In Smoke

Another side to 420 as a date, is that the 20th April marks the anniversary of the Columbine School shooting, or Columbine High School massacre as it may otherwise be called.  On 20th April, 1999, two Columbine High School students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, shot and massacred those at their high school.  They killed 13 people (12 students and one teacher) and wounded another 24 in total.  Eric and Dylan then turned the guns on themselves and committed suicide.

One particularly daunting fact, was that both Eric and Dylan, initially apparently ‘normal’ students, had planned the massacre in detail ahead of time.  Other plans of theirs had included a bombing to rival that of the Oklahoma City bombing, and hijacking a plane from the Denver airport to fly it into a building in New York.

Grimly, this year there was also a shooting at the Denver 420 rally.  In November 2012, Colorado legalised for adults the recreational use of cannabis; and the 420 rally was a show of support for marijuana.  Although the shootings caused thousands to flee.  Two are suspected in the shootings, one as the shooter and another as an accomplice.  The shootings injured three individuals, which according to Denver police reports, none were life-threatening.

This links back to the earlier post on the Boston Marathon bombing, and this particular date and the copycat notion of the Werther Effect.  It may be that some have premeditated a particular action, yet they only think about it and do not act upon it.  This is until, arguably, something provides a catalyst.  A call to action, perhaps as social proof, and they’ll copy similarly putting their plans into action.

There are now an ample number of such horrific events that have occurred in the USA around Patriots’ Day, including the Waco siege, the Oklahoma City bombing,  the Columbine High School shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, and now the Denver 420 rally shooting.

As contended, not that anniversaries are necessarily predictive, yet they do pose a psychological effect and apparent significance to people.  If the trends for Google searches on “420 shooting” are examined, they show the following peaks in April of most years:

420 Shooting Google Trends

Source: Google Trends

Again, this does not suggest causation, only correlation, and there could be many reasons (as stated above) as to why this correlation may be.

However, if there is an element of premeditation amongst those that commit such cowardly and horrific acts, are these data trends something that a more technology savvy society and its law enforcement authorities may use to prepare for, and maybe even prevent, such outcomes?  With the Boston bombing, authorities turned to social media to help them in tracking done the suspects.  Yet could there have been some forewarning in the data as well?

Cycles of Prohibition

Returning to the issue of 420 and the legalisation of marijuana (perhaps after somehow being distracted by shiny objects), it’s interesting to note the societal viewpoints on what “drugs” may or may not be.  Especially the so-called illicit drugs.

Whether marijuana can move into a decriminalised and eventually legalised status remains to be seen.  Many countries have very, very different laws in this regard.  Contrast the difference between say the legalisation (for the Dutch) and the liberalisation (for everyone else) of marijuana usage in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and the mandatory death penalty for convicted drug traffickers (carrying 200 grams or more of cannabis) in Malaysia.

There is also the issue of passive smoking and marijuana.  Consider the introduction of electronic or e-cigarettes; and the health warnings on cigarette packets, anti-smoking campaigns, and laws about smoking in public places and concerns over passive smoking.  Because harmless tobacco, is no longer considered quite so harmless.

It was not until the 1950s that medical studies seriously began to emerge linking smoking and lung cancer.  Prior to that smoking was advertised, even with the endorsement by some doctors, as being good for your health.  Times have indeed changed.

Advertising of cigarettes is now highly regulated in many countries, especially with respect to not being used for sporting events.  The advertising of alcohol in sport is also moving in a similar direction.  Alcohol has also gone through varying stages of prohibition; and societal attitudes and the legality of its consumption have varied considerably over time and by country.

Even television, movies, and videogames for the most part have moved away from portraying smoking as something favourable and cool.  There are some exceptions, perhaps for historical accuracy or anachronisms.

One may wonder what the future may hold for other drugs, such as caffeine.  Will the advertising and sale of coffee be highly controlled at some point in the future, perhaps a step towards 1984?  What about energy drinks?  Given increased regulation of alcohol and tobacco, if this is the apparent trend, then what hope do those pushing for legalising marijuana realistically have here?

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Feature Image Credits: Aaron Tang; Aaron Tang; Cannabis Training University; Enrospr; Thecomeupshow; Timeshifter; Wikimedia Commons; Wikimedia Commons