Ann Arbor Hash BashAnn Arbor Hash Bash

Legend has it, one of the most popular nicknames for cannabis use originated with the time of day a group of high school students in San Rafael, California would gather for a toke.

From that inauspicious beginning, April 20 has become one of  the world’s most celebrated countercultural holidays, with events ranging from a “smokeout” in Belfast, Northern Ireland to a “hash bash” in Ann Arbor, Michigan to “Weedstock” in Atlanta.

While many local celebrations will be dominated by discussion of changing laws and local politics, it’s an auspicious time to celebrate some of the more delightful and overlooked aspects of this growing culture.

1. It’s frequently generous
I’ve spanned the globe researching the new world of cannabis. From Safed, Israel, home of Kabbalah, to Santa Cruz, California, home of all things hippie, to Denver, now the coolest city in the US, I’ve met growers, dispensary owners and health practitioners who give away cannabis to people in need. The devilishly saintly Valerie Corral provides free flowers, oils and edibles to the terminally ill. She has done this for some 24 years at her Santa Cruz institution, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana. She grows her meds on her farm high above the Pacific Ocean, the closest place to heaven I’ve ever seen. In the old days, she and her then-husband, Mike, would pack their excess harvest into a truck, park on the side of the road and disburse it to any interested passersby.

Marijuana varietiesWater hash varieties at the Emerald Cup

2. The Emerald Cup, “The Best Party You’ll Never Remember.”
Cannabis conventions are fun, but this California competition that shows off the year’s finest organic strains is well worth two full days of attendance. It’s set in the Santa Rosa, California, fairgrounds, and attendees sample the latest in organic concentrates, water hashish, candies, cookies, “potcorn,” and other assorted edibles; try new fangled delivery systems; see impressive glass art, and despite the quote above, indulge in other very memorable activities.

3. It could save Detroit
What’s the best thing to do with miles of vacant lots, empty factories and thousands of unemployed people? Start indoor grow farms to revive Michigan’s economy, and plant hemp, the amazing weed that revitalizes soil, refreshes filthy air with tons of oxygen and produces the world’s strongest fiber, one that’s already used to build car doors for Mercedes. Oh, and now that medical marijuana is becoming legal in Michigan? Let’s just say the high’s the limit.

4. Plant lovers are, in general, gentle souls
Cannaphiles love their crops more than most. They had better: Nurturing fine herb takes a lot of time. As Terrence McKenna said in  Food of the Gods: “We can begin the restructuring of thought by declaring legitimate what we have denied for so long. Lets us declare Nature to be legitimate. The notion of illegal plants is obnoxious and ridiculous in the first place.” Or, as Michael Pollan asked in The Botany of Desire: “And what might our ancient attraction for flowers have to teach us about the deeper mysteries of beauty, what one poet has called “this grace wholly gratuitous”? Good question!

Budtending is the new waitressing. And the sweaty smell of fresh herb beats that of a broiling burger any day.

5. Its community of celebrants spans the world
What other plant has a following that extends from Borat’s birthplace in Kazakhstan, through India and Southeast Asia and Australia, across North Africa and down to Durban, South Africa (home to that extremely stimulating strain, Durban Poison), across to the Caribbean and down into South America, and up through North America as far north as Alaska? Cannabis is a global commodity that most governments (except Uruguay) seem intent on fighting rather than regulating.

6. It keeps loan-burdened college grads out of McDonald’s
Budtending is the new waitressing. In California, Colorado and Washington, grow farms and dispensaries train and employ thousands of financially strapped college grads who can’t find work in other sectors. And the sweaty smell of fresh herb beats that of a broiling burger any day.

7. It’s plugged in
Wax, CO2 extracted oils, Vape pens, shatter, electric nails? Cannaisseurs know that testing new products and formulations is as involving and as much fun as a tasting wine or trying the latest iPhone.

PeronDennis Peron

8. It honors its gays
Educated students of cannabis history know that the gay-ganja connection has always been strong. In the ’60s, Allen Ginsburg, gay poet, spiritual seeker and voice of his generation, used cannabis to explore and gain insight into Matisse, whose painting had otherwise eluded him. In the ’90s, Dennis Peron, a Vietnam vet and fiercely queer cannabis activist, opened the Cannabis Buyer’s Club in San Francisco to get medical marijuana to people with AIDS: It fought wasting syndrome and quelled pain. Peron also fought, lobbied and collected signatures to get Proposition 215 on the ballot in 1996. Despite being decried by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and then surgeon general C. Everett Koop, 215 passed and became the country’s first medical marijuana legislation. So there.

Carl SaganCarl Sagan

9. Carl Sagan loved it, too
The poet of the cosmos was a dedicated marijunaphile. In 1971, he wrote an essay under the pseudonym Mr. X, in which he explained why he loved cannabis and extolled the ways it stimulated his curiosity and thinking: “I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. Because of problems of space, I can’t go into the details of these essays, but from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.”

10. It’s mysterious
Like meditation, yoga, swimming, skiing, reading, and sex, its pleasures unfold only though personal experience.