Yesterday, my friends Erin, Larissa and I attended an event we had seen on Facebook called “The London 420 Rally.” April 20th is a day that is typically celebrated by marijuana enthusiasts around the world. This is an interesting article explaining the history of 4/20. We decided that attending this pro-cannabis rally would be an interesting way to explore another side of London’s culture, as we’ve learned that Brits generally view marijuana quite differently than Americans.
From what I’ve seen, most English people seem to look down on marijuana use, deeming it to be unhealthy or detrimental to your brain and your life. In the States, it seems that marijuana use is much more common, especially since it is now legal for recreational use in a few states. I asked Richard (my teacher) about his thoughts on cannabis, and he told me that he thinks that it messes with your brain and is very bad for you. From my observations, most British people are completely fine with smoking cigarettes, a habit which appears to be much more common here than in the States.
I wonder if this has something to do with education- growing up in America, I was taught that cigarettes are basically the worst thing ever- sure, I know plenty of people who smoke occasionally, but I really don’t know many who actually smoke a lot. In London, however, it seems like everyone smokes cigs. This was actually one of the big cultural differences I noticed right away after moving here.
Nevertheless, 4/20 in London was a uniquely fascinating experience. We decided to stop by the event before our class, and before we even got to Hyde Park we started seeing signs warning about the illegality of marijuana use.
Even though we weren’t planning on smoking, this did make us feel a bit nervous, as getting arrested was definitely the last thing we wanted! We decided to venture into the park anyways, and sat down with a group of kids who were around our age and casually smoking a blunt in broad daylight. We talked to a good amount of people and asked about the event and their thoughts on marijuana legalization in the U.K., and it almost felt like we were doing a sort of unofficial journalism project.
There weren’t a ton of people there when we arrived, as it was still pretty early in the morning, but there were groups of friends sitting all around the park, and occasionally police would come up and talk to them.
We were told that on 4/20 the cops turn a blind eye to people smoking weed, but I didn’t really believe it and still felt a bit nervous about being associated with these people who were very publicly breaking the law.
Soon enough, one of the cops came over to us.
I was a bit scared at first, but he was very nice. He told us that he “didn’t have his glasses on” that day and that he respected us for coming out to “peacefully protest and make a political statement.” When one of the boys we were with continued to smoke right in front of him, he calmly told him to at least try to hide it. It was really nice to see a peaceful, respectful relationship between civilians and the police on this day, especially regarding an issue as controversial as marijuana legalization.
Soon enough, we had to go to class, but of course we came back for actual 4:20 (or 16:20 over here). By this time, the park was packed. Walking up, you could see a giant cloud of smoke hovering over everyone. Police were still surrounding the area, but were just chilling and talking to each other like nothing was going on.
It kind of felt like a music festival, minus the music. When the clock hit 4:20, everyone started cheering and dancing and lighting up their paraphernalia of choice in celebration. We didn’t stay for very long, but it was quite a cool moment to experience.
I’m glad that I decided to attend this controversial rally, because I felt even deeper immersed in London’s politics and culture. I learned a lot of thought-provoking things about people’s opinions on marijuana usage in the U.K., and I got to meet many interesting people as well. I would highly recommend that anyone studying, visiting or living abroad attend as many protests (peaceful, obviously) and cultural events as possible, even just to watch or do some citizen journalism on. For me, this has been one of my favourite ways to really feel like a Londoner, because these experiences have taught me a lot about the lifestyles and opinions of people here.