With Saturday marking the annual occurrence of the national smoker’s holiday, 4/20 — named for the counterculture term created by a group of teens in the 1970s — it seemed like the perfect time to talk about marijuana.
“Are you high?” you may be thinking.
Why would I take on this hot-button topic, instead of sticking with the usual stream of entertainment-related matters?
Well, first of all, no. My days as a pothead are long behind me.
But despite no longer representing the “stoner” community, my hazy memories of a misspent youth and the fact I’m a 4/20 baby — turning 33 on Saturday — have made for a continued interest in the matter.
And as far as its relevance, you really can’t deny the link between smoking pot and entertainment over the years.
It’s become the subject of countless hit songs, its expanded the minds of musicians the world over and has fueled the fire for fans to enjoy their favorite entertainment in a whole different way.
The influence of this infamous herb seems to know no bounds, crossing genre lines and spanning generations to equally inspire old-school jazz, classic country, modern Rock, futuristic Funk and new age hip-hop.
Though the pitfalls of overusing drugs are apparent and there’s plenty of political issues to get hung up on with legalization, when you look at it from a purely creative standpoint pot’s benefits are apparent.
But I’m not here to tell you that you need to try it in order to enjoy your music more or that you must smoke to make great art.
The real the reason I’m addressing this so-called “gateway drug” is just to recap what’s been a wild year for marijuana locally and to spread the good vibes of the 4/20 celebrations being held around town this weekend.
Depending on where you fall in the debate over the drug it’s either been a groundbreaking or terrifying 12 months for you.
With landmark legislation being passed in Washington and Colorado and a growing amount of data that suggests folks are softening to the idea of decriminalization, things continue to develop nationally.
Though a full-on end to prohibition may seem far fetched to most South Carolinians, the momentum started by voters out west must have local smokers salivating — well, as much as their dry mouths will allow — at the notion of legal pot someday in the not-too-distant future.
Locally, the past year also has been active for those who follow marijuana matters. Here’s a look at a few of the most interesting pot-related stories in recent months:
1. Operation: Red Harvest
The most high-profile bust of the year took place as more than 30 members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club were arrested in Murrells Inlet on April 30, 2012.
This was the culmination of an 18-month investigation called "Operation: Red Harvest" which led to a variety of charges such as marijuana trafficking, manufacturing, sale and possession.
Despite more than 200 indictments, nearly a year later little progress has been made on prosecuting those involved and much of the evidence confiscated from the group’s headquarters has been returned.
Our take: While it’s good to see law enforcement pursuing potentially serious illegal activities instead of just pulling over speeders on U.S. 501, outcomes like this may push some to question whether the time and effort spent on the “war on drugs” is worth the results.
2. Big busts back-to-back
Another pair of busts that raised eyebrows were the seizure of large amounts of the drug in February.
The first, occurring during a routine traffic stop in Conway, led to 50 lbs. of the drug being seized, with the subsequent bust netting 26 lbs. of cannabis federal postal inspectors confiscated from a package that had been mailed to Loris.
Though the two events were unrelated, the fact that they happened on back-to-back days makes you stop and think for a second about how much marijuana must be passing through our area on any given day.
Well, that and also about why someone was stupid enough to try and mail 26 lbs. of dope through the mail.
Our take: Even if law enforcement continues to make big busts, will it ever be enough to stop the drug’s use locally? Of course not. If there’s one thing smokers know how to do, it’s find more pot.
3. NORML flames out
Last spring, a new and surprisingly active chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, began to gain some traction around town.
Beginning in February and running through June, the group hosted a variety of shows and events with the help of local musicians in an effort to drive up membership and raise awareness about the legalization efforts in S.C.
Despite plenty of interest from the community and a solid push for publicity, the group’s efforts sputtered out when its unofficial headquarters, Before 20 Smoke Shop in Carolina Forest, was raided after a complaint was filed about the shop selling illegal substances and bath salts.
Our take: While its nice to see the enthusiasm this effort created around the music and arts scene, short-lived pushes seem to only stunt the growth of support for a cause and deter others from pursuing a similar path.
If local folks hope to make any real progress, it seems like someone needs to step up in a suit and tie and meet state lawmakers head-on, on their own territory instead of just rallying the tie-dye wearing crowd for a string of pot-friendly parties.
4. Synthetic pot sparks debate
The battle over synthetic marijuana in South Carolina also continued to make news this year.
After a number of substances used to make the faux pot were banned in 2011, the issue was challenged by local head shop Purple Haze Smoke Shop that sought clarification on whether the Happy Shaman Herbs it sells were legal.
The request was thrown out and never received a judgement, but the issue of synthetics surfaced again in February when students at Socastee High School experienced seizure-like symptoms, rapid heartbeats and vomiting after ingesting synthetic marijuana at the school.
With that incident in mind, Surfside Beach has taken measures to draft an ordinance to make the sale, possession, transfer and manufacture of any synthetic or “alternative” drug illegal and continues to debate the issue.
Our take: Though the intention of keeping dangerous materials away from kids is a noble one, it’s doubtful that any ban or ordinance will have much of an effect on people’s ability to get illegal substances.
After all, if they really want to, kids can always find new ways to get high from huffing paint or combining other household items that are perfectly legal.
5. Head shop boom
Another sign that the bud business is booming on the Grand Strand was a number of new head shops that popped up around town in the past year.
In addition to the aformentioned Before 20 Smoke Shop that came and went in spectacular fashion, other shops such as Green Zone Smoke Shop on Kings Highway and even Triple M Smoke Shop, a collection of glass and other accessories nestled into a jewelery and acessories store in Coastal Grand Mall.
Our take: Just like the beachwear stores which are always popping up in new spots around town, it seems that head shops will continue to build with no real end in sight.
I can't imagine there's enough business to keep them all in the green, but with the huge influx of tokin' tourists in the summer perhaps more than a dozen smoke shops on a 60 mile stretch of sand isn't as ridiculous as it sounds.
WHERE TO CELEBRATE
For those looking to do more than just sit around watching “Cheech and Chong” flicks all day, there’s a variety of 4/20 parties worth checking out around town. Here’s a look at some of events celebrating the spirit of the spliff this weekend:
1. 420 Fest
Borgata Bar, Surfside Beach with host its second annual 420 Fest from 4:20 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday.
Live entertainment includes The Dubber (Columbia), Sun-Dried Vibes (Rock Hill) and South Street (Charleston) as well as local acts Fireshot, ALLAREONE, Below The Bassline and Treehouse!
Call 839-9595 or visit treehousetheband.com
2. Reefer Madness
The Sound Hole will host “Reefer Madness” show on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.
The all-metal lineup will feature seven out of town acts including One Mind, Kill The Host, Dellamorte, First Class Villian, Vital Mass, Skwirl Grinda and Along The Saluda.
Get details here or call 712-1218 for details.
3. Downtribe vibes
8th Avenue Tiki Bar & Grill in downtown Myrtle Beach will host a special 4/20 Party beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday.
There will be plenty of good times and good vibe and live music from Downtribe providing a “classic Reggae experience” all night. No cover.
Call 712-2340 or visit 8thavetikibar.com
4. Smokin’ Bonghi
The Hot Fish Club in Murrells Inlet will celebrate 4/20 with a live performance from Charleston Reggae group the Ras Bonghi All-Stars performing from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday in its Marshfront gazebo. No cover to attend.
Call 357-9175 or visit hotfishclub.com.
5. Green Day
While it’s not officially a celebration of the day, the 6th annual Earth Day Music Fest at House of Blues from 4 to 9 p.m.
Saturday will feature plenty of laid-back tunes for the 4/20 crowd including Josh Grant, Finnegan Bell, Wahoo Creek Band, Luke Cunningham and an acoustic a duo called Greener Grass.
Check out earthdaymusicfest.com for more details