420 2024: A look back at Lansing’s stoner roots


Happy 420, dope smokers of Lansing!

This year, our precious toking holiday falls on a Saturday, so a lot of you don’t have to call in “sick” on the nation’s most significant pot occasion. As the legal market picks up even more momentum and becomes ultra-competitive, we are poised to see some of the most crucial retail sales incentives for cannabis consumers. In addition, retailers across the state will be throwing an overwhelming amount of 420 events and offering other in-store promotions that will leave you with many compelling options for spending the big day.

The 420 holiday pre-dates the legal market in Michigan by decades. As an undergraduate at Michigan State University in the mid-2000s, even then, headshops were promoting the day as a perfect time to grab that new bong or pick up that new bubbler. The smell of skunk would permeate the campus as every undergrad who touched the stuff took the holiday to heart.

This cultural phenomenon arises from the designated time to smoke weed in the day, 4:20. The concept is thought to be traced to a small group who met at that time every day to smoke weed together. One of their stoner brothers worked for the Grateful Dead, and the concept was permanently installed in the subculture.  Popular culture also ran with the idea that 4:20 is not too long after many blue-collar workers get home, a perfect time to light a joint in anyone’s book.  Over time, the designated light-up time morphed into a designated smoking day.

Michigan has always had a unique and vibrant cannabis culture. The late John Sinclair and Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash participants are some of this movement’s pioneers and intellectual elders. Lansing has pushed many working-class caregivers/activists into the legal market and legitimacy. Hard-fought gains have been made by cannabis heroes like Capital City Caregivers, Redemption Cannabis’ Ryan Basore, Danny Trevino of Hydroworld and Robin Schneider of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association. An activist class was created in the capital city, not by mistake. The town has been primed for pot for a long time, and its working-class roots and university proximity make the caregiver years seem like Camelot to many of those still in the game.

The 420 holidays in 2014 and 2015 Lansing looked almost as busy as this year’s. Nearly 90 medical cannabis shops filled the city. South Cedar Street and Michigan Avenue were lined with pot shops that occupied previously abandoned storefronts.  It was hard to find anyone not involved in the industry or benefiting from its economic activity.

However, even with so many people benefiting and a beautiful community being built by activists and small business owners, many in the area still did not like the city’s embrace of the burgeoning industry. The very namesake of this column, Lansterdam, was once tossed out as a pejorative from unhappy wealthy developers and business owners in the city.

As cannabis became legal and regulated for medical and later recreational use, Lansing saw the 420 holidays become entrenched in the adult-use cannabis retail sector. Many people miss the camaraderie associated with the old counterculture around this plant, especially as it transitioned from illegality to a legal gray area for many years in Michigan. The nascent industry and minimum regulation gave people from every walk of life a chance to enter a new and quickly growing industry with minimal start-up expenses and no regulatory hurdles. The result was a community that looked to help one another navigate the market and the upcoming trudge to legalization.

Consumers were more involved with activism then because laws were so different from city to city and all over as far as enforcement was concerned, and you needed to stay informed to ensure you could keep getting your meds.

In 2023, the Michigan cannabis industry hit $3 billion in annual consumer sales; this puts our state in the premier league of cannabis markets. In addition, a recent report shows cannabis created more than 10,000 Michigan jobs last year, for 46,676. The industry has matured in Lansing, and the storefronts are less Wild West than they used to be. In their place is a growing set of retail operators.

Besides job creation, the industry is boosting revenue to local government: The city of Lansing received $1.4 million in taxes this year from 24 facilities, up $400,000 from the previous year.

Supporting all this is a population that loves weed and a workforce of growers, extractors and retail workers that make up a sustainable new jobs segment that is much needed in the area. This spring and summer will see another season of outdoor cannabis consumption events. Soon, consumption lounges will start opening around the city, ushering a new era of cannabis culture into the capital city.

As the cannabis market grows and matures around the state, the 420 holiday will continue to shift from being a countercultural phenomenon to a time when consumers and retailers look for ways to spread savings and raise the average ticket price.

I want to think that here in Lansing, we will continue to use the day to smoke some dope with our friends and loved ones and continue to build a community around this amazing plant that has uplifted many people in our city. I’m hopeful it will be a time to honor heroes like Danny Trevino, who is sitting in federal prison today for being a pot pioneer, or the recently departed John Sinclair and Rick Thompson — two activists who, without, there would be no legal market for us to enjoy. Let’s all get stoned this year for 420, but let’s also push to create a better, more informed, transparent cannabis community and industry and honor those who sacrificed so much to build it for us.

Oh, and one more thing: No one is calling the city Lansterdam negatively anymore.


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