How Colorado Ruined April 20th, and Why I Didn’t Walk Out Today

On November 6, 2012, on the same day that Coloradans and their fellow Americans reelected Barack Obama to the presidency, 55% of Colorado voters voted yes on Amendment 64, making Colorado the first state to legalize marijuana consumption. In doing so, Coloradans, possibly inadvertently, ruined a solemn day in the state’s history.

I’m not using today’s post to rail against marijuana legalization, because I do support the legalization and think it will help in criminal justice reform efforts and in the fight against opioid addiction. No, instead I want to discuss how April 20th was turned from a day of remembrance for a terrible attack into a day of celebration for stoners and Snoop Dogg.

See, April 20th, as many know, is the day of the Columbine High School shooting, when 13 students and teachers were murdered in an attack that seems to have started a generation of similar attacks on schools in America. Every year, Columbine doesn’t have class on April 20th, and the school takes the day to remember what happened, honor the victims, and hold a day of service around the school. It’s a solemn day, and certainly not one for jokes and parties and celebrations.

But April 20th is also written as 4/20. 420. That’s the stoner code number. Supposedly, it derives from a group of teenagers in the 80s who would smoke weed at 4:20 pm under the code of 420. With Colorado now being the home state of marijuana (even though some 10 states have legalized it for recreational use now), there’s the 4/20 festival every year on April 20th, where thousands of people take over downtown Denver to smoke and do other stoner things (if you can’t tell I don’t smoke and don’t know much about that sort of stuff). Big name rappers like Snoop Dogg come every year to perform and take part in the festivities. There’s so much pot being smoked that, the closer you get to downtown, the more you can smell (and even see) it. It’s been known to create a cloud of pot smoke over parts of Denver.

Now, I see Columbine as no joke whatsoever. Thus, in my view, the 4/20 celebration in Denver turns the day into a complete joke, a fun day that is, I believe, starting to lead to people forgetting what happened at Columbine.

So this now leads to today’s walkouts. While I’m completely in support of the Never Again/March for Our Lives movement and am hoping that we begin to see real legislative change within the next few month, I chose not to partake in today’s walkouts, which meant that they did not occur at my school today. And it’s because of how the 4/20 celebration has ruined today in Colorado.

See, I’d love to be able to honor the victims of Columbine with a protest today to help support changes to our nation’s gun laws. But I felt strongly that a walkout today from a school near downtown Denver (and with the state capitol being our likely destination) would end up with massive detractions of students who walked out of school and decided to partake in 4/20 festivities (which mostly take place across the street from the capitol). If the day is supposed to be a day for change and remembrance, walking out of my school would not help create that sort of day. On top of those concerns, there was a request made by the families of Columbine victims that today be a day of rememberance and not one of protest and walkouts. While I’m disappointed that the national leaders of the movement still opted to organize national walkouts, I’m glad that they did respect the wishes of the Columbine community to support a day of service following the walkouts this morning. (Another note for those organizers: they asked that the walkouts take place at 10 am Eastern time. That’s not right for 2 reasons. First, that means walkouts would start very early on the West Coast, which means that there might be confusion about when students should walk out, and second, it should really start at the time of the shooting, at 11:19 Mountain time, if it’s truly in rememberance. Those notes aren’t critical, just important to think about for future protests).

Because of how I feel that this day has devolved in Colorado in light of the legalization of marijuana, I felt that the best way to support those affected by the attack at Columbine would be to stay in school and keep the victims in my mind as I went through my day. If the honor of those victims cannot be wholesome here in Colorado anymore, then I believe we have much work to do to adjust how we think about tragedy.

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