By Lyle Harris
And so it begins.
After quitting my good government job four months ago, I’ve been on a journey without a road map or any guarantee that I’ll reach the final destination in one piece. I confess this adventure seems a little bit nuts. Scary too.
But, throwing caution (and what’s left of my 401K) to the wind, I’m planning a regular feature on SaportaReport called “I-420 Georgia.” The goal is simple: to create a rolling travelogue highlighting the people, places and businesses being impacted by Georgia’s existing marijuana laws.
Along the way, I’ll interview parents with children suffering with severe disabilities who can’t legally get the healing cannabis oils they need because of Georgia’s prohibition against in-state marijuana cultivation and sale. I’ll spend time with rural and urban farmers needlessly restricted from growing hemp, a non-psychoactive cousin of cannabis that has vast potential as a cash crop. I’ll also visit local jail inmates whose lives have been upended, in many cases, for mere possession of a single marijuana cigarette.
But why am I calling this feature I-420 Georgia? In case you hadn’t figured out the snarky double entendre behind the name, let me explain.
The term “four-twenty” was coined back in the 1970s, reportedly by a group of California teenagers who often met at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana. Over time, “420” has become a popular, sub-cultural code for the plant itself and its consumption.
In a weird cartological coincidence, “420” was also the three-number designation for an interstate highway that was proposed to run through Georgia, also in the 70s. The planned interstate was never built, providing an apt metaphor to those of us for whom those numbers hold a special, if different meaning. Our work remains unfinished.
To brand these columns for readers, the logo I’ll be using resembles the familiar interstate highway sign, which has long been in the public domain
By telling one powerful story at a time, my hope is that these I-420 dispatches will inform the public debate while serving as a personal declaration and call to action. I also hope that by reforming our state’s regressive marijuana laws, Georgia will someday offer humane medical relief to those who desperately need it, give rise to new industries and economic opportunities and begin addressing the generational injustices the federal War on Drugs continues to inflict on our communities.
After the results of the 2016 election, it appears many other parts of the country are moving in the right direction on cannabis reform. On Nov. 8, voters in four states approved ballot measures legalizing adult use of marijuana; four other states approved the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes or expanded laws that were already on the books. As it stands now, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form.
A measure to relax Georgia’s extremely restrictive medical marijuana statute wasn’t in play this time around, but a committed group of activists and advocates, including the Georgia Care Project, are working diligently to change that. Statewide polls indicate most Georgians support marijuana reform, including a sizable majority of Republicans.
Who knows if Georgia will ever make the shift from a “red” state to a “blue” one in upcoming elections, as some Democrats have been wishfully predicting. In the meantime, my I-420 columns will be focused on turning Georgia a permanent shade of green when it comes to marijuana.
(Note: No business, individual or organization is paying to produce content for I-420 Georgia. If any such editorial conflicts should arise, I’ll be transparent and timely in disclosing them to our readers.)