Dealing with 420 under lockdown

Thanks to the immutable cultural significance of the number 420*, the 20th of April has become certified official International Weed Day and it’s landed right in the middle of lockdown. Not only that, but the peak of the covid-19 crisis was predicted to hit the UK somewhere near the 19th of April. And, this year 420 falls on 20th of the 4th 2020, this was going to be the big one, “woaaahhh 420:2020!”

Already, the last few weeks have been marred by communal horror at the amount of mingling and socialising apparently going on in London’s royal parks. Locked-down Britain has ushered in a reorganisation of society which sees sunbathers and joggers akin to pariahs and harpies while nurses are our pride and joy, at last. The police are piggy-backing off this outrage and introducing further measures to ensure people don’t leave their homes, for example, authorities have launched various platforms for grassing on your neighbours for leaving their house more than once a day or to snitch on any gatherings in public spaces. How long this panoptic climate will go on for after the pandemic has passed, nobody knows, but the Tories have been flexing their authoritarian muscles and used this state-of-emergency to entrench their powers for the long-term. In the short-term, the policing of parks and open spaces has become their priority during lockdown. One might think that it’d be easier to stop people going outdoors if their tenancies, food supply, mental health, benefits, and jobs were protected, but that’s just a passing thought. Whilst it remains that nobody should be meeting their friends or having parties or gathering beyond their households at this time (!), a lot of people still have to go outdoors quite often and turning local communities into hives of snitching, self-immolating neighbourhood watchers is neither productive nor conducive to mutual aid. What we can be sure of is that any people seen in Hyde Park on the 20th of April will welcome police attention whilst being scornfully manipulated by the likes of The Spectator and some virulent Karens on Twitter.

The UK has been hit by a wave of mass panic, the death toll keeps rising, the state continues to fail us, it’s a living nightmare and we’re all confined to our homes as the encroaching summer laughs at us through our windows. People have been gathering essentials and, despite 4202020, many have been stocking up on cannabis or similar byproducts to ensure they can maintain their physical and/or mental health during a very stressful situation which, as of yet, does not have an end in sight. In the meantime, albeit not as essential, celebrating 420 every April has become a fond and important tradition which the thousands who usually gather in public parks will have to celebrate from home. This crisis has forced us all to adapt. So, how are dealers and buyers navigating lockdown?

First, the “darknet” has seen a huge fall in orders, and in early March, the value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies fell sharply. Subsequent spending has slowed across March and April, including darknet cannabis purchases. Nobody seems to know when this might pick up again, although a lot of white dudes online have some very strong opinions on the matter.

In the traditional, IRL realm, some dealers have suspended their activities altogether due to the sudden, significant increase in police presence and surveillance. The chances of being stopped while driving (and having your whole vehicle searched) have grown exponentially, particularly in big cities, and for some it’s not worth the risk. Similarly, one dealer announced to their customers that they are taking a hiatus to self-isolate at home with a vulnerable relative (and they encouraged others to do the same).

Meanwhile, inventive means have been developed by dealers who are still working. One acquired a popular courier’s uniform (from a well-known vintage store, hilarious) in order to be less conspicuous to the police. Others are marketing “lockdown packs” or “virus bags”, bulk sales at a cheaper rate intended to last for over a month, including tips on how to keep it fresher for longer. Social distancing measures have also been adopted, some employing methods similar to supermarket deliveries where goods are left in place after payments are made remotely. Some who more regularly operate in cars have implemented specific covid-19 instructions, such as telling people to only get into the backseat, leaving all the windows open to help reduce the risk of droplet inhalation, and hand sanitiser has not only been available but for sale or free with a large purchase! Entrepreneurship lives on in Britain.

There’s a ton of common empathy, too. A buyer who suffers from epilepsy told me they’re struggling to afford basic necessities after losing shifts due to covid-19, so their dealer has allowed them an advance on weed with no interest. Similarly, another buyer explained that their whole village currently has no working cash points, the three ATMs are either out of order or out of cash, there are no shops which offer cash back, and they can’t reach the nearest town. The buyer and dealer are out-of-pocket until they develop a new system, but they’re working together to figure something out.

Since the whole global economy is collapsing around us like a shit Argos shed, it’s no surprise that the prices of cannabis are also fluctuating. It is estimated that around 75% of Britain’s cannabis supply is grown here, while the majority of hash and medical marijuana is supplied from overseas. So, unlike some other drugs which rely on smuggling through international borders which are presently heavily monitored by authorities, the weed supply chain shouldn’t be too severely affected. Nonetheless, the selling and buying has been impacted by the panic. One buyer in a big city said their usual dealer is selling everything cheap with some products less than half price, but added that this wasn’t consistent with others in the area, and the dealer seemed “frenzied, like they were trying to get rid of everything quickly”. Another buyer in a different city said the opposite, “the bags are getting worse and so is the price”. Elsewhere, a buyer explained that since their dealer has been social distancing and leaving the product in a safe place before driving off, they’ve taken this opportunity to only put the “worst bits” in the bag because nobody can complain face-to-face. “A bag of fucking twigs”, the buyer said.

In the meantime, some people aren’t dealing or buying at all. With the sudden arrival of extended downtime we have all been developing our domestic hobbies, whether it’s cultivating sourdough starters, embroidering everything in the house, reading anarchist theory, or trying to start a personal weed farm. Cannabis seeds are easy and fairly legal to buy in the UK and, after lockdown was officially announced, Google searches for growing marijuana plants increased by almost 300%. However, Google probably revealed that it can take around 8 months to harvest anything smokeable. While vegetable and herb seeds are selling out all over the UK, most cannabis seed vendors are still in stock and encouraging people to start buying. I spoke to one person who did stock up: “I got some extra fast super-cultivator seeds, they said I could harvest them in 2-3 weeks but it’s been 2 weeks already and nothing’s happened”… I don’t know what to tell them.

Some people are faced with their first ever weedless 420, but 420 was never meant to just involve getting high. It’s a social event for most, and a political one for many. Around the world, music festivals are planned for 420-adjacent weekends, business expositions are held for cannabis-focused companies, and huge unofficial gatherings take place in local hot spots. Previous years have seen marches and demonstrations for legalisation, prison abolition, nuclear disarmament, and global pacifism. In Hyde Park, while the sight of thousands openly smoking illegal substances is something of a novelty, 420 has become a day of symbolic freedom while en masse the police can’t really do much to stop everyone. Without the social and political celebrations, 420 loses some of its significance.

Still, mass gatherings today remain highly irresponsible, so 420-related events have been cancelled or rescheduled accordingly. Glasgow Green’s annual “420 Hempstock” has been postponed indefinitely. Marches and demonstrations planned for Hyde Park have been cancelled. The tradition of flocking to Hyde Park for 4:20pm is unofficial in nature, so it hasn’t been formally cancelled, but it would be hard to convince anyone that a social gathering in London during the projected peak of the pandemic is a good idea.

There is some good news for stoners on lockdown. Kelis (of Milkshake fame) has created a new show all about cooking with cannabis which is, unsurprisingly, called Cooked with Cannabis and will launch on Netflix on April 20th. Superbad is also streaming, as are Scooby Doo the Movie and Pineapple Express, if you somehow still find that funny, so you can pay homage from your sofa instead. In the US, to replace festivals and events, virtual 420 provisions are being organised by HighStream and The Great American Sesh In with quarantine-approved livestreams, taking place on 420 (but in EST time). In the UK, friends are planning to hang out via Animal Crossing or Minecraft or boardgame-online and someone somewhere is trying to organise a “clap for cannabis” at 4:20pm on 4/20/2020, which seems a bit far from the communal clap originally reserved for healthcare workers, but, fine, as long as nobody is clapping for Boris Johnson.

The extended powers of police and other authorities to detain, watch, and punish have been entrenched by the government to last for the next two years. They are already giddy with renewed license to be unnecessary; people are being fined for offences which don’t exist, dog-walkers have been followed with police drones, vulnerable people are being evicted from their homes, carers’ cars are being clamped.** Already ingrained in many a smoker are movements for legalisation and decriminalisation and this is a time to remember and build on the protests of 420’s past.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, a dealer will be able to return to their customers, a buyer will be able to get cash out once more, the shops won’t be sold out of Twixes, and in the distant, distant future, that guy might manage to harvest something from his super-fast-growing seeds. Here’s hoping the relative scale of global disasters will have lessened by 4202021 so we’re not confined to making CBD sourdough and playing Club Penguin with the lads.

Darya Rustamova

* The real reason behind 420’s origin is a hotly debated topic. Is it an old police code? Did it come from Douglas Adams (probably not)? Was it a secret meeting time between school kids? I won’t get into it.

** Read more on this here: https://freedomnews.org.uk/legal-people-are-being-criminalised-for-coronavirus-offences-that-dont-exist/
here: https://freedomnews.org.uk/evictions-held-over-hotels-for-the-homeless-covid-is-upending-housing/
and here: https://freedomnews.org.uk/boris-johnson-a-libertarian-what-a-joke/