4:19 on 4/20 At Berkeley Is Exactly What You Think

This piece was originally published on Ratter in April of 2015, but has since been scrubbed from the internet.

“You stoned?,” asked the guy running the Armenian genocide awareness exhibit.

“Nah,” I responded.

“You wanna smoke?”

It’s 4/20, the high full-fledged holiday for all things pot. I’m on the UC Berkeley campus where the April day has become a sprawling libertarian celebration of almost-legal dope. Even the campus police seem in on the fun: I haven’t seen them all afternoon.

My pal staffing the exhibit dedicated to the 1915 Turkish slaughter of Armenian people didn’t seem to mind the kids with Bob Marley shirts playing hackey-sack and smoking a joint behind him.

It was only 2:50, after all, 90 minutes before the big 4/20, 4:20 p.m. moment, and maybe 80 or so students have populated the grassy lawn outside the big library.

They’re clumped in cliques and passing the time until 4:20 p.m. by studying or … smoking.

It was a bit overcast and mostly quiet, save for The Berkeley College Republicans, who set up shop near the entrance of the glade to $2 dollar hot dogs. Last year they made $300, and it’s easy to see them making even more this year. While business savvy, the Republicans weren’t as sharp as another club that helps underprivileged teens writes resumes and was set up to take Venmo payments from 4/20 celebrants.

(The Republicans didn’t seem to have any problem profiting off weed sales. One told me: “We don’t take an official stance as a club, but many of our members support legalization. We’re mostly libertarians.”)

By 3:30 or so, students started to stream to the glade in larger and larger numbers. Frisbees and footballs flew around as the volume of voices rose higher and higher. The sun emerged from the clouds high above, as new clouds formed at grass level. Smokers became less and less discreet.

On the north end of the lawn, squatted between two trees, I found five white bros in plaid shirts and short khaki shorts.

“I took ecstasy at Coachella and it was the best time of my life!” one exclaimed, as his friend wearing a backwards Super Bowl XXX hat ripped a bowl from a one-hitter.

The bros relaxed, admiring another student practicing his backflips on the grass. The 4/20 mellow started to sink in.

“Which store do you think will see the highest increase in revenue?” one bro inquired.

“McDonalds? Maybe Jamba Juice?,” offered another bro.

It is now 3:50, 30 minutes to 4:20, and the lawn was nearly full. Kids in cliche weed-leaf shirts and beanies rolled up by the dozens. Many are carrying full boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. Six or seven dogs scurried around the grass, visibly excited by the commotion.

As the stoner population stretched into the hundreds and police remained curiously absent, nearly every group of students pulled out a piece or a joint or, even, in rare cases, a bong. Over near a World War II memorial fountain, a kid in a Hawaiian shirt was hawking brownies.

“Anyone want one? They’re special!,” he exclaimed.

“You take Venmo?,” they replied.

The clock tower struck 4:00 pm. “20 minutes,” said some hackey-sackers.

A few people pulled out a parachute, glanced around, and mischievously spread it into the air before tucking themselves underneath. Reggae music blasted from broken speakers. One man nervously approached a group of four people and asks if they can spare a rip of their joint.

By 4:15, it was useless to try and witness any individual interaction. Chaos reigned, and nervous energy spread throughout the crowd. Five more minutes.

I climbed up above the library, where I squeezed in between a chemical engineering student and a freshman.

“Not participating?,” I asked.

“Nah, the view’s good enough for me,” the freshman replied.

Twenty or so folks lined up beside me, all looking down at the commotion below.

“The Bible’s logic is extremely circular,” went one conversation to my right. “If I’m going to buy into religion, someone has to address that fact.”

The clock hit 4:19. Fifty seconds later, a countdown was initiated — 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. A cheer broke out as the clock struck 4:20. As smoke clouds ascended into the air, I saw my friend from the Armenian genocide awareness exhibit down below, ripping a piece.