Though there are still people who say there is no ‘war on drugs’ even they could not deny that a lot of money is spent trying to reduce the use of drugs. Prohibitionists would say the trouble is that not enough money is spent whereas I would argue that much of it is spent on impossible goals.
To illustrate my general point I want to write about one particular instance where money was spent with the specific intention of reducing drug use.
In case you didn’t notice, last Friday was 20th April. To someone in Europe that doesn’t mean very much but if you adopt the US style of stating dates numerically then Friday was 4/20. That means that 1620 hours on 20th April has become a rallying point for cannabis users (4:20 on 4/20).
In case you’re not familiar with the term, '420' was first associated with cannabis when five friends at San Rafael High School in California went in search of a fabled plantation of Cannabis sativa, marijuana. It was 1971 and the friends, who called themselves the Waldos, heard a rumour that a member of the coast guard had abandoned a small crop of plants. They agreed to meet at 4:20pm to begin their search. When unsuccessful, they tried other days, always at 4:20, and as things go with close friends ‘420’ became their word for marijuana and everything associated with it. It might have stayed like that except for the coincidence that two of the group had connections with rock band The Grateful Dead. When the band took up the term its longevity was assured.
Incidentally, you’ll still read other explanations for the term but the summary I’ve given is taken from a long, fully researched article including interviews with some of the Waldos and documentary proof.1
So, 20th April has become, unofficially, ‘Weed Day’ in both the USA and other countries. Over time, a key part of ‘Weed Day’ has become a communal ‘smokeout’ at the Norlin Quad on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In previous years, the event has attracted up to 12,000 people so, on the basis that this posed a serious safety risk, the university authorities decided this year that they would act to prevent the gathering. According to CNN2, their efforts were pretty successful because the advance notice of the prevention meant people stayed away, almost certainly, finding somewhere else to celebrate the 420 moment.
But it isn’t what happened at Norlin Quad that interests me. It is what happened elsewhere on the campus. The university authorities, apparently at the request of student leaders, decided that one way to reduce the crowd at Norlin Quad was to mount a rock concert the same afternoon.
They booked Wyclef Jean, former Fugees’ frontman and failed Haiti presidential candidate. His contract has been made public meaning that the Denver Post was able to report that he had been paid $80,000 to perform.3 The paper estimates that the total cost of the event was $150,000. It also says that the organisers claimed that 1,000 people were in the 11,000 capacity venue though other estimates put the number as low as 500. The performer also ignored clauses in the contract calling for him to refrain from any mention of cannabis and the smell of cannabis was detected in the arena at 4:20.
So, a large sum of money and a great of effort went into stopping some people using marijuana but, as is always the case, what happened was the balloon effect with the people who would have smoked in Norlin Quad doing so somewhere else.
Incidentally, I referred to the event being held in the ‘arena’ because I wanted to save the best to, almost, last. The place college students were being encouraged to go to instead of smoking weed at the Norlin Quad is called the Coors Events Center as the beer manufacturer is its sponsor.
'Almost last' because I saw another example of the same sort of thinking. The current right-wing Dutch government, which may be out of power soon after failing to get agreement on a budget, is trying to prevent tourists from purchasing cannabis from the cafés where its sale is tolerated and considering scheduling Catha edulis, khat.
But ‘The Official Site of Holland’ has a page dedicated to encouraging visitors to take in ‘The Heineken Experience4’. As well as pointing out that the ‘experience’ ends with a ‘well deserved beer’ it says that under 18s must be accompanied by an adult. So, it is fine for children to learn about beer as long as they are with someone who is going to drink it.
1.4/20: How 'Weed Day' Got Its Name
Huffington Post 20th April 2012
2.Colorado public pot-smoking event snuffed out CNN 21st April 2012
3.CU-Boulder's Wyclef Jean concert greeted by near-empty arena The Denver Post 20th April 2012
4.The Heineken Experience The Official Site Of Holland