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The organized activities for this year’s 4/20 holiday in Illinois and Iowa range from the leisurely, to food-filled markets, to policy-focused events.

You can find a batch of all-day celebrations in the Quad Cities; outdoor markets in Peoria and Chicago; an “End Federal Prohibition” rally in Springfield; a themed dinner in Des Moines; a “glow paint” adults-only event in Carbondale; a late-night showing of “Reefer Madness” by Iowa City’s FilmScene; and a “puff and paint” event in Rockford, Ill., for those who can’t make it to a Wednesday event.

The holiday originally stereotyped as a “stoner” party is now also a push for updated federal laws regarding cannabis, and recognitions of restorative justice such as the Illinois State Legislature’s passage last week of a bill that ends the requirement of drug testing for those seeking to expunge their records of prior positive cannabis testing.

This year’s events even include an increased focus on climate change, through events like 420ppm in California, a daylong gathering of growers to discuss how to promote outdoor growing over indoor growing, which is known to add substantially to energy emissions and carbon dioxide levels.

Rumors abound over what led to the original choice of 4/20 as a holiday for cannabis users. The Shepherd Express in Wisconsin, where a bill to legalize some forms of cannabis is scheduled for state House debate Wednesday, outlines the holiday’s true origins.

“In the early 1970s, a group of high schoolers in San Rafael, California, would meet up at 4:20 p.m. in front of a statue of chemist Louis Pasteur to get high. The time was chosen because it accommodated high school classes for the group of friends, one of whom later worked as a roadie for Phil Lesh, bassist with The Grateful Dead,” Jean-Gabriel Fernandez writes. “Through this connection, the band started using 420 for weed as well, and the message ended up on a flyer telling fans to ‘smoke pot at 4:20.’ The flyer reflected a growing sentiment for activism and civil action, including the phrase ‘legalize it’ and urging fans to support NORML, which is the still active and successful National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.”


Currently, 18 states including Illinois have legalized recreational marijuana along with medical marijuana, while Iowa is among the 37 states that have legalized medical cannabis. Iowa’s medical marijuana program is also considered among the most restrictive in the nation, and is accessible to only 5,000 to 6,000 Iowans. Recent polls show a majority of Americans support full legalization, as do a majority of Iowans. But while the U.S. Senate will be taking up a bill to decriminalize cannabis nationwide, Iowa legislators see no future for legalization, Axios reported last week. State Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison and head of the state’s Judiciary Committee, likened cannabis use to substances use that creates mental health issues.

A push that started in January by three Iowa Democrats to receive approval for a constitutional amendment on cannabis legalization hasn’t gone far. Most recently in March, the effort was blocked by Republicans from even a hearing, reports Iowa Starting Line.

By stark contrast, Illinois’ latest move toward restorative justice regarding cannabis is headed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk. The new law ends Illinois’ existing requirement that people seeking to expunge prior positive cannabis drug tests from their record undergo a current drug test. Illinois also recently passed a law prohibiting workplace discrimination against cannabis users. The state also has a vigorous restorative justice program that directs a percentage of tax revenue toward efforts to address unemployment and poverty, improve legal aid, or help those previously incarcerated receive job re-entry training.

For a rundown of 4/20 events in Iowa, go to The Real Mainstream calendar of events about cannabis this week. To keep up with the latest policy changes nationwide and at the state level, as well as research news, watch the publication Marijuana Moment.