Photo by Todd Cooper

High Time for a Holiday

A journey through Eugene's 4/20 weekend

Every time Christmas rolls around, people start talking about the “War on Christmas” and how they feel under attack for saying “Merry Christmas.” So they retaliate by plastering “Keep Christ in Christmas” everywhere.

Christmas is, thankfully, a long time from now. But recently, 4/20 — essentially Christmas for weed — happened.

I’m not a weed connoisseur, nor do I use it, but I wanted to find out what Eugene means when it says “Happy 4/20.” The only way I could find out was to visit some of these marijuana dispensaries and find out what the holiday meant to them.

When I decided to hit up my first dispensary, Emerald City Medicinal, I thought arriving at 10 am would be far too early. Well, let this be a reminder to not judge behavior based on stereotypes. Apparently the store had people lined up outside, waiting for the store to open to buy product at low prices.

“This is our Black Friday,” store manager Lori Rossini tells me. “Today’s a wash, but it’s all about the customer.”

In addition to deals, the store is going to have a free barbeque for its customers — and anyone else, for that matter — that’ll start at 4:20 pm. Since  Emerald City Medicinal is located next to a few social service organizations that work with people experiencing homelessness, Rossini says she expects there will be a lot of people who aren’t customers trying to get a free hot dog or hamburger. But that’s OK for the store, she says.

“We like to give back to the community, as well as our customers.”

I grab my doughnut, make a note to return for a burger at 4:20 pm, and got ready to move on to the next place where I could get some more food and see how Eugene celebrated 4/20 — the Friday festivities mark the first time the weed holiday lands nearly on a weekend since its legalization in 2014.

River Valley Remedies uses 4/20 as an opportunity to offer some hot wings, snacks and deals on their products, but also inform their customers about the benefits of terpene — fragrant oil that works like essential oils.

Maria Worsley, who with her husband runs Medicine Farm Botanicals, changed her career trajectory from becoming a therapist to working in the marijuana industry after learning how terpenes can ease pain. Terpenes, she says, have helped people deal with skin issues, muscle pain and arthritis.

So far, it seems the 4/20 holiday is all about deals, education and feeding the community. Would it be possible to have a family friendly 4/20 party?

Oregon’s Green Rush on River Road found a way to pull it off. After taking a left turn across River Road during the lunch rush (maybe the greatest achievement of the weekend), right away I notice a large congregation, basically a street fair consisting of food vendors and merchants selling shirts, art, popcorn and cotton candy.

Janice Grossman, who owns the property and the dispensary, says she wants this to be a regular event, something like Saturday Market for the Santa Clara community. I grab my cotton candy — a weed-free way of getting “cotton mouth” — and take a final look at some tie-dye clothing.

Next, arriving at Bud’s, I run into two guys from a marijuana distributor. Of course, they see themselves as living the dream despite spending a lot of their day on the road, visiting dispensaries in both Eugene and Salem.

I regularly heard the weed holiday compared to Christmas throughout the weekend. The distributors at Bud’s tell me that 4/20 is a “Christmas for cannabis” but also refer to the holiday as their “Hell Week.”

Even Wiz Khalifa at Snoop Dogg’s Wellness Retreat muses, “Why can’t every day be 4/20?” It sounded a lot like what you’d expect Linus to say in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

4/20 isn’t every day yet, but it’s claimed more days of celebration this year than in the past. Sure, Snoop Dogg will extend it, but Kevin Smith kicked it off with a show at the Hult Center on April 19 — now 4/20 Eve. Some know Smith as Silent Bob or the director of several cult classic films of the 1990s and 2000s, but I’ll always remember him as Chronic from Bluntman and Chronic (referenced in Chasing AmyJay and Silent Bob Strike Back and an actual comic series spinoff) and their showdown with Cock Knocker, played by Mark Hamill. Before he took the stage at the Hult, he did some exploring in Eugene and shared a Facebook Live video at Spacebuds: The Dispensary. Given his career, it’s really no surprise he’s a weed superstar. So when he showed up to Spacebuds: The Dispensary, the excitement was reciprocal. Many in Eugene were ecstatic to see Smith in a local dispensary and he seemed to be in paradise with all of the sci-fi paraphernalia inside the store — everything from Spaceballs-inspired merchandising to Doctor Who TARDIS.

There was a sense of Christmas spirit emanating during the 4/20 weekend. But it was more than just free swag or weed products offered at a low price. It seemed to be about bringing the community together to say: Weed isn’t the boogeyman that’ll be a gateway drug to the hard stuff.

It’s the Great Wellness Retreat, Snoop Dogg! 

“Snoop’s not even going on until midnight,” I hear someone say.

Damn, that’s going to make for a long night. I can’t remember the last time I was out past midnight.

But I had to endure for Snoop. His 420 Wellness Retreat Tour had him leaving Kent, Washington, around 9 pm, so I was impressed he’d be here by midnight.

Now, I’m 99 percent sure that Santa Claus isn’t real. But the hustle that Snoop Dogg had for this mini-tour elevated him from 4/20 hero to the Weedy Claus.

Because Snoop would arrive so late, I get worried when I see chairs on the floor of Matt Knight Arena, thinking the crowd would sober up by the time Snoop Dogg got on stage.

Man, was I wrong.

The minute Rob $tone — the show’s opening act — gets on stage, joints light up faster than children opening presents on Christmas morning. Of course, this puts the venue’s security on high alert, as they start running around looking for the glowing ember of a lit joint or bowl.

Why Snoop Dogg was at Matt Knight Arena in the first place confused me.

Why would you invite some of weed’s biggest pot cheerleaders to an indoor venue when people are just going to light up joints regardless of fire codes? I mean, sure we have rain to worry about with outdoor shows, but I hear it never rains in Autzen Stadium. Nevertheless, it’s a good reminder for a lot of the smokers of what it was like back in the day before weed was legalized in 2014. So, it’s almost a way to acknowledge and praise the weed martyrs.

Security doesn’t rest looking for these pilgrims, though. Throughout the night, the venue’s security flashes lights on us, and it makes me think of how trenches in World War I would shine lights throughout no man’s land, looking for stragglers.

I’m pretty used to security busting people with flashlights. Even the Hult Center’s security will interrupt an evening with the Eugene Symphony with their flashlights. But seeing University of Oregon police officers joining in the hunt for smokers surprises me, especially when they bust and escort someone out of the venue.

That doesn’t stop the performers from smoking on stage. Wiz Khalifa keeps a death grip on his weed through the night — even while he sings his slow jams. Maybe he knows the audience is having trouble dealing with security so he sends out giant inflatable joints to the audience as a morale boost.

And it seems to work. I see a man double fisting two beers and one of these three-foot long joints under his arm. For him, it’s a true 4/20 miracle, and at this point, I’m a little jealous of the crowd on the floor.

Snoop finally gets on stage around 12:30 am after a lengthy stage set up. But he blazes through his set like it’s some sort of hip-hop revue. He riles up the crowd with some old school. He throws on some Biggie. But when he covers “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” it’s a reminder that the West Coast still loves 2-Pac over Biggie.

Now, the holidays often cause awkward situations and the 4/20 holiday weekend is no different. Snoop’s stage has pole dancing platforms, so he brings out some dancers (or strippers, I really don’t know anymore) for a few songs. I’ve never been to a strip club before, but now I see what it’s like going to a strip club with Snoop.

At the end of the set list, he serenades us with a laid-back version of “Young, Wild & Free,” which he says is our new National Anthem — so roll over “Star Spangled Banner” and give Francis Scott Key the news.

But I disagree with Snoop. The song works like a Christmas carol, inspiring us to take part in the holy weed spirit to celebrate 4/20: “So what we get drunk / So what we smoke weed / We’re just having fun / We don’t care who sees / So what we go out / That’s how it’s supposed to be / Living young and wild and free.” ■