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Unofficial marijuana holiday prompts discussion

It’s 4:20 p.m. on April 20, and it’s Reya Sunshine Jes’ 24th birthday.

The cultural significance of her birth date does not escape Jes. She is familiar with marijuana – from age 13 on, she smoked it every day. Now sober, she still celebrates the drug’s unofficial holiday.

On April 20, Jes spent the afternoon with friends on the steps of Northrop Auditorium, discussing marijuana legalization, the economic benefits of growing marijuana and the drug’s history.

Behind her, more than 50 University students and 20-somethings – some high, some not – played Frisbee, conversed and relaxed on the mall under a sweet-smelling haze.

“There’s always something going on today, it’s like a holiday,” Jes said of the event, sponsored by the University group National Organization of Reform of Marijuana Laws. “It’s fun to just come and see what it’s about.”

For others, the event was a chance to rally the marijuana-smoking troops into political action.

“We could put 1,000 people here today and nothing would change unless these people come out and vote,” said Darrell Paulsen, vice chairman of the Minnesota NORML chapter. “If they don’t exercise that right, they will lose their chance to change things.”

Paulsen pointed out the efforts of Gov. Jesse Ventura, who advocated medicinal marijuana use in a video welcoming attendees of a NORML national conference in San Francisco last weekend.

“He really stuck to his guns on the marijuana issue,” Paulsen said.

Marijuana legalization was frequently discussed on the mall, as about a third of those present said they had been caught with marijuana in the past.

“I think they’re getting pretty far with this,” said University freshman Candace Gonzales, who said she smokes only on the weekends. “If they get this far and just quit, then they really don’t care that much.”

Jes also expressed frustration with the progress of some legalization groups.

“If all the stoners got together and got effective or got organized, maybe something would really get done,” Jes said. “Most marijuana legalization groups are started by sober people.”

But Paulsen argued that the stereotype of a lazy marijuana-smoker is useless and outdated.

“It’s not just the teen-ager smoking pot and playing video games all day,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the guy down the street wearing a suit and tie. It’s not just a rebellion drug anymore.”

With the future of marijuana legalization unclear, University NORML founder Jason Samuels said activist groups must work to alert others to the situation.

“That’s what we’re here for,” he said. “To pull that reality of society together and shape it to change.”

After 4:20 p.m. came and went, attendees drifted from the mall, on their way to other events and parties. Thirty minutes later, a University police car cruised through the mall, lights flashing and sirens silent.

The remaining students scattered, scooping up their belongings and surrounding trash, as the scent of marijuana disappeared in the air.

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