What 4/20 means with legal weed on the horizon

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April 20 has long been a national marijuana "holiday" for enthusiasts and activists. But 4/20 has taken on special meaning in New Jersey this year, as it could be the last one while the drug is illegal in the Garden State. 

Here's everything you need to know about 4/20, New Jersey marijuana legalization and the stranger-than-fiction story behind why three numbers became synonymous with weed.

NJ Governor Phil Murphy holds a press conference along with Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (left) and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney in Trenton, NJ, Monday, March 25, 2019.  Earlier, Legislators had decided to hold back bills that would legalize recreational marijuana sales.

Are there any special events scheduled for 4/20?

The main events Saturday are the rallies planned for the New Jersey Statehouse on West State Street in Trenton. The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey is hosting a "Legalize It!" rally at noon.

Ed Forchion, the longtime legal weed advocate best known as "NJ Weedman," has planned what he's calling a "victory" celebration from 3 p.m. to 4:21 p.m. The victory, he says, is that marijuana laws across the country are starting to fall, piece by piece.

"For decades we 'weedmen/weedwomen' did a great service providing marijuana to 'we the people' in spite of the government's racist, destructive declared war on us all and we still won," Forchion wrote on Facebook.

It's safe to assume that, at 4:20 p.m. on 4/20, there may be some public consumption of marijuana.

State Police talk with Ed Forchion, known best as NJ Weedman, outside the Statehouse Annex on West State Street in Trenton Thursday, September 27, 2018.  He billed this as his boldest stunt - selling marijuana outside the Statehouse while daring police to arrest him.

What does 4/20 mean?

It's not a police radio code. It's not the number of chemicals in weed. And it has nothing to do with Hitler's birthday. 

The story of 4/20 is essentially the story of five California high school kids who went on a treasure hunt for marijuana. As the legend goes, five friends — known as the "Waldos" — got word about a Coast Guardsman who, upon being relocated, had drawn a "treasure map" to his homegrown patch of cannabis nearby.

The Waldos were determined to find the weed and met up each day after school to 1) smoke weed and 2) go on their treasure hunt. They picked a time after the final bell rang and all their after-school activities were complete: 4:20 p.m. 

It became a simple, coded phrase: "4:20," they'd say to each other. 

How did 4/20 become such a big deal?

Around this time, legendary jam band the Grateful Dead had moved into town. The Waldos had various connections to the band and became friends and hangers-on. 

The band picked up the friends' "420" lingo, as did "Deadheads." And years later, High Times magazine published a flyer explaining the code, calling for all marijuana users to meet at a Marin County, California, overlook and light up a joint at 4:20 p.m. on April 20.

"There's something magical about getting ripped at 4:20, when you know your brothers and sisters all over the country and even the planet are lighting up and toking up right along with you," the flyer read.

The true story of 4/20 involves five stoned teens, a treasure map and the Grateful Dead. Here's a preview of Potcast podcast from USA TODAY Network.

“We’ve already gotten to the point where you have corporate companies tweeting about 420 and other advertisements. It’s gone that far,” David Bienenstock, a cannabis journalist and author, told the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey last year. “It’s really transformed into this day of public celebration and a holiday for the cannabis community, which is actually a really important thing.

"Every culture and community needs that day of celebration, of being really visible – particularly a culture that has faced the oppression that weed smokers have faced," Bienenstock said.

OK, enough with the history lesson. When is weed going to be legal in New Jersey? 

Gov. Phil Murphy has set the goalposts for legal weed at the end of next month. That's his newest deadline, who has vowed to expand medical marijuana access by executive action unless the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act is passed by then. 

"I’m still confident we can get it done legislatively and I’m prepared and certainly open-minded and quite supportive for the Legislature to go back at it and find those last couple of votes we didn’t quite get," Murphy said. "But it can't be an unending calendar."

USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey reporter Mike Davis answers questions about NJ marijuana legalization, including where you can/can't smoke medical marijuana and if legal weed will be vertically integrated. Mike Davis and Ryan Ross, Asbury Park Press

According to the Legislature's website, an Assembly voting session is scheduled for May 23 and a Senate session is set for May 30. But it's unlikely that a bill would be put up for a vote unless its success was guaranteed.

If a vote doesn't happen in May, the future is unclear. Murphy and top legislative Democrats could toss around legal weed like a political football as 2019-20 budget discussions heat up. 

Or they could wait until after the November elections, as Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has suggested.

What about on the federal level?

It's pretty safe to say that the earliest marijuana will be legalized on the federal level is after the 2020 presidential election. 

But there is real movement in Congress that could ease marijuana prohibition without doing away with it altogether. 

The biggest legal weed bill is the Marijuana Justice Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. That bill would essentially legalize weed on the federal level. This would allow federally funded institutions to possess and research the drug, allow the Food and Drug Administration to consider medical marijuana as a bona fide treatment and allow marijuana businesses in legal weed states like Colorado to operate across state lines. 

Veritas Fine Cannabis one of Colorado's top grow facilities

But much more likely to pass is the STATES Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. The STATES Act doesn't address marijuana on the federal level, but instead shields states that do legalize weed — or have medical marijuana programs — from any federal interventions.

Essentially, a medical marijuana doctor or the owner of a recreational marijuana dispensary wouldn't have to worry about the FBI busting down their doors and arresting them for marijuana distribution.

But the bill most likely to gain traction in Congress this year is the SAFE Banking Act, which would shield federally insured banks who do business with cannabis clients. While the landscape of the cannabis industry has changed since Canada legalized marijuana, it's still difficult for those in the business to perform basic functions — like opening bank accounts and getting lines of credit.

The issue is that banks are wary of entering such lines of work, out of fear that the federal government could come down on them. 

Gov. Phil Murphy says the fight is still on to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey Thomas P. Costello , Asbury Park Press

The SAFE Banking Act would prevent that from happening. And it has real support in Congress: The bill already has 165 cosponsors in the House.

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