The origin story of 4/20, the battle cry for cannabis boomers, is as elusive as the mystery of the missing lighter at every sesh. Some rumours claim that it started as code language cops would use to alert each other about marijuana smoking in the area. Some confirm that its usage can be traced back to a group of friends who would meet at exactly 4:20 pm to smoke weed away from their prying parents. Still, other than this number being found on the bill that legalises medical marijuana in California, there’s no real proof behind why exactly this day got anointed as the Puff-Puff-Pass Day. Nonetheless, everyone who enjoys getting high was excitedly anticipating April 2020, the year in which 4/20 would go from a mere day to an entire month. Then came coronavirus.
The coronavirus lockdown has disrupted not just our economy and social lives, but also put a dampener on 4/20 plans across the world. And this effect hits hard in a country like India, where cannabis continues to be criminalised despite mentions in historical Ayurveda texts and surveys that crown the country as one of its biggest consumers.
“I’ve been looking forward to this event for two years,” says 22-year-old Rhea*, a Mumbai-based writer. “My friends and I generally hotbox a bathroom at 4.20 am or pm every year on April 20, but since we were supposed to have a whole month this time, we had been planning movie nights and munchie crawls since December. But now that I’m stuck at home with my parents, none of that is happening.” In fact, young Indians who still live with their parents appear to be struggling the most as the infamous stoner holiday has rolled around. “I normally sesh at the home of a college friend who lives nearby, but this lockdown has made my parents so paranoid that it’s impossible for me to step out of my house,” says Sneha*, a 19-year-old student from Pune. With stash and supplies running low, the current quarantine situation has also compelled several stoners who were looking forward to 4/20 month to take a tolerance break in a bleak twist of events. However, access to a proper smoking zone or cannabis itself aren’t the only issues. The extended lockdown has also pushed weed dealers to keep a low profile.
“Since the lockdown has started, it’s become risky to keep selling weed so I’ve had to temporarily suspend all my deliveries,” Raj*, a Mumbai-based weed dealer, tells VICE. While business would ordinarily be booming this time of the year for Raj, who is part of a larger network of dealers that deliver to people’s doorsteps, restricted movements and enhanced surveillance mean that his side-hustle is seeing its biggest downer yet. And he isn’t alone. “Most of Goa’s weed supply comes from Karnataka, and now that they’ve sealed borders, the whole state is running dry,” 20-year-old Anirudh*, a Goan student, explains. Since the supply of stash is scarce, Anirudh is one of the many who’ve had to satiate their cravings by rationing whatever weed they have left. “The trick is to roll super slim joints so you save maximum weed, but still have enough to smoke.” However, while Anirudh has been able to limit himself to one joint a day to make his stash last the lockdown, not everyone has been able to follow doob discipline in these uncertain times.
“I scored three packets of weed on March 23, the night before lockdown was declared, and I’m already almost out,” says 28-year-old Mumbai-based graphic designer Rehman*. But even as hardcore stoners like him find themselves low on stash, they’re also discovering different ways to circumvent the system and make a score, even if it means shelling out extra cash. According to Rehman, “It’s tough to score given the situation, but at the same time, dealers are looking to get rid of hydroponic stocks they’ve scored off the dark web and kept for months since these won’t last long in India’s humid weather. So, you can still get really good hydro stash that’ll give you a crazy high—at the usual price of one gram going for Rs. 2,500 ($32). Otherwise, your only option is Bombay black, but even that’s become way more expensive.” Even while weed is still low-key available, the catch here is that you either have a trusting relationship with a hydro dealer or pay a premium on the normal price of “skank” weed which is known to be tainted with toxic additions including opium, shoe polish and rat poison. “The price of skank weed in Bangalore has now become about Rs 4,000 ($ 52) for about 50 grams,” reveals 24-year-old Sam*, a marketing professional. “It depends on how chill the dealer is with you, but pickups are pretty much still on here.”.
Interestingly, it’s scoring weed that has become a whole different ball game in this lockdown, with even dealers who were once comfortable making drop-offs at crowded train stations or packed streets now slinking into corners of grocery stores and pharmacies. “The person I scored from also works in an area declared as an essential service, so he has a pass to move around freely,” 22-year-old Ajay*, a social media executive who lives in Noida, tells us. Meanwhile, others like Rehman have devised their own novel methods. “I figured out a way to use a medicine delivery app to get my weed for me by declaring it an ‘Ayurvedic medicine’ and packing it like that,” he admits. In fact, courier services allowing the deliveries of essentials like medicines have become a go-to loophole for stoners to score, despite the delivery taking almost 15 days under the circumstances. Meanwhile, sources in cities like Mumbai and Delhi point out that scoring hash, which more or less costs about Rs 5,000 ($65) for ten grams—making it twice as expensive as (non hydroponically grown) weed—has become much easier since its pocket-friendly size makes it easier to conceal and carry around even in a lockdown. However, some people have complained that even hash now costs them about Rs 8,000 ($104), almost double its regular price, depending on how close a relationship they share with their dealer. “If your dealer has known you for a while and you live nearby, he probably won’t overcharge you,” says Karan*, a 25-year-old financial analyst from Mumbai who managed to negotiate his score for a lower price by agreeing to pick up the stash straight from his dealer’s house. “Some of them are worried that if they keep the hash for too long, it may dry up and harden, so they’d rather sell it off if it’s more convenient.”
While many have to make do with the price and quality of whatever’s available on the black market, a handful of high-rolling dealers have come up with homegrown alternatives. “The dealer that we score from usually brews his own butane hash oil,” says Siddharth*, a Mumbai-based producer. “I’m not sure if he grows the stuff on his own or has some stock stashed away, but he deals exclusively only to people he knows well, and the prices are exorbitant, like the minimum amount would cost Rs 8,000. However, oil does last longer than hash and has a smoother high.”
But even as many have managed to save their intoxication plans from going up in smoke, seshing solo has proven to be more painful than previously imagined. “Smoking solo was fun for the first two weeks, and even though it sometimes feels like the fuzziness of the high is the only thing keeping me from spiralling into anxiety, no movie or homemade munchies can ever make up for a sesh with my crew” says Simran*, a 22-year-old fashion designer. Inspired by videos on the internet, Simran and her squad have tried to substitute a stoner circle with video calls, and even recorded videos of them with individual joints that they pass around in a continuity loop to make it appear as if they are in the same room. “Now that my stash is almost out, I’m seriously considering taking a tolerance break till the situation improves. Because honestly, the biggest high of smoking up is having friends you can pass the joint to. Even if y’all aren’t talking and just tripping out to music, the lockdown has made me realise that getting stoned isn’t as much fun if you don’t have someone to share a smokey room with.”
*Names changed to protect identities.
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