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Ben & Jerry’s Uses 4/20 To Promote Marijuana Reform While Other Brands Market Off The Holiday

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This year, the marijuana holiday 4/20 is being disrupted across the board due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing measures.

But while public gatherings and scheduled events are being cancelled—with some organizers offering virtual alternatives—some major businesses are continuing to leverage the occasion to promote cannabis causes and products.

The ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s stands out. As in past years, the brand is using 4/20 to highlight the harms of federal marijuana prohibition, particularly for communities of color. In concert with the ACLU, Ben & Jerry’s announced on Saturday that it is formally endorsing congressional legislation to deschedule cannabis and push restorative justice.

The company said in a blog post that the era of legalization means that people in an increasing number of states do not have to fear being prosecuted over cannabis-related activities—as long as “you’re a white person,” at least.

“Legalization must have equity at its heart. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to support the [Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement] Act, which would make cannabis legal and (it’s an important “and”!) expunge prior cannabis convictions,” the post states. “Want to feel really really good this 4/20? Then let’s make sure that legalization benefits all of us. That’ll turn 4/20 into a day that we all can celebrate.”

Ben & Jerry’s stressed that while legalization has enabled certain individuals to profit off a burgeoning industry, people continue to be criminalized across the country over marijuana—and even in legal states, racial disparities have persisted. To that end, they will be supporting efforts to federally reform cannabis laws, in part by launching content initiatives and encouraging people to take action individually.

“We have to do more than trade on quirky hippie stoner culture,” Christopher Miller, the head of global activism strategy at Ben & Jerry’s, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “I think particularly now as there’s a lot more money being made as the industry becomes legalized and real, it’s incumbent upon all of us—individuals and companies who are trading on this—to step up and ensure that the damage that’s been done over the years around the drug is somewhat ameliorated as we move to this phase around marijuana.”

The company made a similar point as part of a 4/20 campaign last year, and it emphasized that all of this is part of a multi-year project to support criminal justice reform.

Asked why other private companies decline to take positions on policy issues like legalization, Miller said it’s “because it’s just not something most companies do.”

“Most companies, to the degree that they are involved in policy—and the truth is, most are—they are focused on policies that are in their own narrow self-interest.”

While it’s rare for businesses outside the marijuana industry to take a public stance on legalization legislation, an increasing number of mainstream companies are leveraging the 4/20 holiday to promote their products. Take BarkBox, for example.

The company got a rave response from the marijuana community after launching a set of doggie joint, bong and cannabis leaf chew toys. In fact, while they planned to keep the campaign going through the 4/20 holiday, they’re already sold out.

Via BarkBox.

BarkBox, which is known for cheekily pushing the boundaries of pet products, said they will meet the high demand and have ordered more. In a blog post on Thursday, the company said it was taken aback by the positive reception.

“It’s no secret that we at BARK are not afraid to make some weird dog toys… And TRULY we don’t always make these toys on purpose,” BarkBox editor Stacie Grissom wrote. “But yesterday’s toys? YEAH we did these on purpose… But we didn’t know if you all would think they are as hilarious as we find them.”

“We started our promotion of a free oregano tug / spinach burrito / science beaker for your dog on 4/15, intending the promotion to hold out until April 20th,” she continued. “You know, April 20th– a normal day in which your dog should get to play with normal toys, made by normal people. Have a good, normal day.”

Two national restaurant chains—Del Taco and Blaze Pizza—are offering promotions to mark the cannabis occasion. Del Taco is selling 10 tacos for $4.20 and Blaze will be upgrading orders to the thicker “High-Rise” dough, according to a press release.

&pizza also promoted a 4/20 deal on pies.

The coconut water company Vita Coco joked that “today supposed to be about being chill” and asked followers to reply with stories about their experiences working from home during a time of social distancing due to the pandemic. People who reply with the hashtag “#letsbeblunt” will get “a free case of Vita Coco Infused with Hemp to help you… escape.”

White Castle is urging people to host virtual watch parties with the cannabis cult classic “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” and the company said it will try to participate in as many as possible if they’re sent an invite.

The bakery company Insomnia Cookies is offering a pack of six cookies for $4.20.

Panda Express is selling four lunch bowls for $20.

All single burgers and sandwiches are $4.20 at Smashburger on Monday.

Boston Market said people kept on buying chicken.

Vegan food producer Impossible Foods tweeted some plant-based solidarity with cannabis enthusiasts.

The Canadian branches of TurboTax and H&R Block both posted about cannabis and taxes.

FYE wants people to buy marijuana-themed movies.

Over at Netflix, the streaming service released a cannabis-themed cooking show to mark the holiday. “Cooked with Cannabis” features chefs competing to “get the hosts and special guests high on elevated cannabis cuisine with their artful use of leafy herb, THC infusions and CBD sauces,” Netflix said.

The music streaming company Tidal created a 4/20 playlist, featuring classics like Afroman’s “Because I Got High.”

After spending four years reviewing about 50 different cannabis vaporizers, The New York Times’s Wirecutter blog released its top picks in a post on Monday.

But while entertainment and discounts will inevitably abound on 4/20 now that marijuana is mainstream, it seems as though Ben & Jerry’s is again the outlier in treating the holiday as an opportunity for activism, rather than just consumerism.

“What we know is that consumers, citizens are looking for companies to take a stand on issues and to be agents of change at a time when there’s not a lot of trust in government,” Miller said. “People are looking for companies to step up in this way.”

On 4/20, ACLU Highlights Racist Marijuana Enforcement In New Report

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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SXSW Wants You To Vote On Marijuana And Psychedelics Panels For 2021 Event

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Dozens of marijuana-related panels have been proposed for next year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) event, and several other submissions mention psychedelics. Now the festival needs the public’s help in deciding which ones make the cut.

Through Friday, SXSW is asking people to comment and vote on 48 proposed panels for SXSW 2021 that involve cannabis and four that mention psychedelics. The festival, normally a trendy annual event in Austin, will be held online in March.

Proposals for the panels span the gamut, from issues of social equity in legal cannabis to DIY healthcare and home entheogenic medicines. Most of the proposals have an industry feel—a nod to the festival’s “cannabusiness” track featured in recent years—while other pitches are especially timely: More than one mentions cannabis and COVID-19.

Anyone is free to comment on the proposals through the festival’s PanelPicker tool. To vote, you’ll need to sign up for a free SXSW account.

Among some of the notable names put forward for the 2021 festival include Bay Area recording artist and entrepreneur Berner, co-founder of the marijuana brand Cookies; Cat Packer, director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation; Al Harrington, a former NBA player who founded his own cannabis company; and Toi Hutchison, senior advisor on cannabis control to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D).

There’s a lot of overlap between panel topics, so be sure to look through them all. Try searching with terms like “cannabis” or “psychedelics.” Many carry the festival’s “cannabusiness” tag.

Here’s just a taste of some of the options that could be featured at SXSW 2021:

Celebrities Redefining Cannabis Entrepreneurship — It wouldn’t be SXSW without celebrity. This panel features Gilbert Anthony Miliam Jr., the musical artist better known as Berner, who co-founded and runs the trendsetting cannabis brand Cookies. The panel centers on how entrepreneurs of color in the marijuana space are working to rectify past injustices of the drug war and what the future intersection of entertainment and cannabis might look like.

The Future of Cannabis Is Appellation Designation — Interested in craft cannabis? Representatives from Big Rock Partners, Sonoma Hills Farm, Henry’s Original and Moonmade Farms discuss how a new California “appellation of origin” law could impact growers and help inform consumers about where their cannabis comes from.

The Stoners and the Suits: Building Bridges — One of the earliest entrepreneurs to enter legal cannabis, Andrew DeAngelo, president of DeAngelo Brothers Productions LLC, shares how he’s been “both a ‘stoner’ and a ‘suit'” during his 35 years in the marijuana business and offers ideas about how to build trust between groups that often find themselves at odds.

DIY Healthcare: From Seed to Self Reliance — For those who like to get their hands dirty, Amanda Reiman, CEO and founder of Personal Plants, explains home production and processing of plant-based medicine, including cannabis and psychedelics.

Can We Ensure Equity In Cannabis Policy? #YesWeCan — This solo panel by Cat Packer, director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation, focuses on how we can “build a more equitable society for those previously and currently affected by cannabis policy,” as well as other areas of society affected by cannabis policy. Packer, who previously worked for the advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance, shares her perspective as a self-described “agitator” within the space and acknowledges there’s still work to be done.

The Crop They Won’t Share–Disrupting Legalization — “Legal Cannabis Doesn’t Care About Black People,” begins the description of this panel, which notes that 96 percent of cannabis business licenses in the U.S. have gone to white owners. Featuring speakers such as Toi Hutchison, senior advisor on cannabis control to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), and Melek Dexter, founder and CEO of Lets ReUP and Do Better Project, this is yet another worthy look at the need for social justice in the cannabis industry.

The Urgency for An Equitable Cannabis Industry — Another proposed panel centering on the need for social equity in cannabis, this one features a more industry-side perspective. It includes Tahir Johnson, business development and diversity and inclusion manager at the National Cannabis Industry Association, as well as Curaleaf VP of Social Responsibility Khadija Tribble and representatives from Lantern and Fyllo.

Psychedelics: Rewiring Mental Health Care — Professors from Johns Hopkins University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine are among the speakers on this panel looking into the therapeutic uses of psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. Panelists will explain psilocybin’s potential benefits to treat psychiatric and behavioral disorders, discuss common misconceptions and examine existing problems in mental health care.

Reporting on the Corporatization of Psychedelics — With more and more interest in the mental health applications of psychedelics, yet another illicit drug market could soon go legal. In this panel, the CEO and managing editor of DoubleBlind Mag, which covers psychedelics, sit down to discuss how cannabis paved the way for psychedelics and how for-profit interests could upset efforts at equity.

It’s not yet clear how many of the proposals will be selected. In 2019, the festival boasted more than 20 cannabis events, including discussions on entrepreneurship by women and the prospect of marijuana reform in Texas. Sixty-two cannabis proposals were submitted for consideration in that festival.

SXSX’s 2019 cannabis track also caused some controversy when former House Speaker John Boehner (R), who joined the board of a major cannabis firm after leaving office, delivered a keynote address, which drew protests from social justice advocates who argued that corporate marijuana firms had overlooked equity issues.

SXSW 2020 was scheduled to feature 24 different cannabis panels, but the festival was canceled due to the pandemic.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan

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Feds Cite Marijuana Comments By Seth Rogen, Joe Rogan And Other Celebs In COVID PSA Database

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The Trump administration appears to have considered celebrities’ views on marijuana legalization and drug use to be relevant factors when selecting spokespeople to participate in a public education campaign on coronavirus prevention, internal documents show.

From Seth Rogen to Kim Kardashian to Joe Rogan, drug policy views or experiences were apparently considered in the vetting process.

The House Oversight Committee late last month released a “PSA Celebrity Tracker” database that was maintained by a campaign headed by Trump aide Michael Caputo. It listed nearly 300 celebrities that contractors vetted as potential spokespersons for a “Helping the President will Help the Country” ad campaign to promote public safety amid the pandemic.

That list—which was obtained as part of a congressional committee inquiry into COVID-related spending by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—contains brief notes on each prospective participant that flag political affiliations and policy positions on a number of “liberal” issues, including cannabis reform and same-sex marriage. It also notes prior convictions for drug and other offenses.

Marijuana specifically came up in the notes section for four would-be celebrity spokespersons: Seth Rogen, Seth McFarlane, Kelly Clarkson and Armie Hammer. Others were flagged more broadly for drug reform stances or past drug crimes.

For comedian and actor Rogen, one of the most outspoken celebrity advocates for cannabis policy reform and a marijuana culture icon, the note states: “Describes himself as ‘left wing’; has been outspoken about marijuana legalization.” Rogen already offered some coronavirus advice to young people in August, urging against public gatherings and telling followers to instead “hang out alone and smoke weed and watch movies and TV shows.”

McFarlane, the creator of the TV show Family Guy, “supports the legalization of cannabis,” the spreadsheet says.

Clarkson, a singer, has “voiced her liberal opinions including legalizing marijuana” and NFL protests against police brutality.

And a 2011 cannabis possession conviction for the actor Hammer evidently came up during the PSA vetting.

Kim Kardashian, Kelsey Grammer, Tito Ortiz, Andrew Zimmern and Jason Bateman each were noted as having discussed using drugs or struggling with addiction.

Podcaster Joe Rogan, meanwhile, was flagged for his more wide-ranging “pro-drug legalization views.”

While it does not necessarily seem that these notes on each celebrity’s backgrounds indicated they would be disqualified from participating in the COVID-focused PSA that never ultimately materialized, it indicates that political ideologies such as support for marijuana legalization were areas of interest to the administration, or at least to Caputo, who serves as HHS’s spokesman.

Democratic lawmakers took exception to the overall plan, which was first reported by Politico.

“It is critical that HHS provide accurate, nonpolitical public health information to the American people that encourages mask wearing, social distancing, and other science-backed public health recommendations,” the chairs of the Oversight Committee, Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis and Oversight’s Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee said in a joint press release.

“Yet, the documents we have obtained indicate that HHS political appointees sought to use taxpayer dollars to advance a partisan political agenda and direct taxpayer money to their friends and allies,” they said.

None of the celebrities with drug-related notes on the tracker list seem to have agreed to participate. Of the select few public figures who did agree, they all later declined the opportunity.

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Photo courtesy of YouTube/Jimmy Kimmel Live.

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Schools And NCAA Could Ban Marijuana Sponsorships Under Bill To Let Student Athletes Monetize Their Success

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A new bipartisan congressional bill aimed at helping student athletes monetize their success contains a provision that would let colleges and intercollegiate organizations block them from making sponsorship deals with marijuana businesses.

While the legislation would address a longstanding controversy over inequitable payment to college athletes, drug policy reform advocates are disappointed to see the legislation perpetuate anti-cannabis policies despite the growing, state-level legalization movement.

The Student Athlete Level Playing Field Act, introduced by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) and seven other original cosponsors, would make it so colleges and associations like the NCAA could not prohibit students from being involved in intercollegiate athletics if they’ve entered into sponsorship agreements.

However, it stipulates that the exception would not apply if the sponsorship is from a “seller or dispensary of a controlled substance, including marijuana.”

Student drug policy reform advocates took exception to the cannabis provision.

“Student-athletes are professionals and deserve the right to earn funding from any legal service they deem fit. As young professionals, they can determine for themselves if an endorsement is going to hurt or help their career,” Luis Montoya, co-interim executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “These restrictions are not based in any science, and in particular ignore community re-investment efforts by the cannabis industry. Banning student-athletes from accepting endorsements from an industry that wants to reinvest in local communities only limits the opportunities afforded to these young professionals.”

The bill, filed last month, would also allow actions against students who get endorsement deals with alcohol, tobacco, adult entertainment or gambling companies.

Meanwhile, for lead bill sponsor Gonzalez, this particular provision seems to depart from his overall record on cannabis reform.

The congressman voted in favor of spending bill riders to protect all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal intervention in 2019 and this year.

In other education-related drug policy developments, a separate House bill filed last year would repeal a federal law punishing college students who are convicted of drug offenses by stripping them of their financial aid. That reform cleared the Education & Labor Committee as part of a broader college affordability bill, but it has not advanced further.

In any case, Gonzalez touted his new legislation, arguing in a press release that it “delivers meaningful reforms and will make a difference in the lives of student athletes of all levels of competition across the country.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), an original cosponsor, said the measure “is a civil rights issue.”

“For far too long college athletes across the country—many of whom are people of color—have been denied the basic right to control their name, image and likeness,” he said. “What we wanted to do from the outset was come to a bipartisan consensus that puts forth a national framework that gives college athletes the same rights every other American in the country is already afforded.”

But while the congressman acknowledged racially disparate policies in college sports, it’s also the case that the war on drugs has disproportionately impacted African Americans and Latinos. Reform advocates who support cannabis legalization have emphasized the need to create opportunities for people from communities harmed by prohibition enforcement to participate in the newly legal marijuana market.

And so while the athletics bill seeks to make a seemingly benign exemption for allowing marijuana-related sponsorships, the policy also makes it so students of color who’ve been most negatively affected by these college policies are unable to benefit from endorsement deals with an industry that advocates are hoping can play a proactive role in fostering racial equity.

Earlier this year, Major League Baseball clarified that players can consume cannabis without being disciplined, but moved to ban them from entering sponsorship deals with marijuana companies.

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