Look, there is no shame in some good ‘ol 4/20 shenanigans. In fact, we encourage them. But it’s also important to celebrate the achievements of activists and regular citizens in the multi-front battle for legalization and regulation — especially to prevent 4/20 from being dismissed as a frivolous stoner holiday. With the U.S. rapidly moving towards federal legalization, the corporate cannabis industry is setting its sights on Latin American countries like Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay (the first country in the world to legalize marihuana) as the next markets ripe for the picking. However, capitalist paths towards legalization are always dubious causes for celebration.
To lend some perspective on 4/20 and the ways cannabis culture is blossoming around the continent, we spoke with six Latin American artists who shared their formative experiences with weed. From pressing legal battles unfolding locally to turning the plant into a creative ally, these artists have found tunes and peace of mind at the end of some sticky green while also encouraging moderation.
“In Costa Rica, we’re moving towards legalizing medicinal cannabis, and it’s a very particular initiative where only corporations would have access to growing rights, and it would prohibit home cultivation for regular citizens. Ironically, home cultivation has always been allowed due to a legal loop hole, so this alarming change is being discussed by activists but it should be a national conversation.”
“Cannabis is a plant that has helped me navigate life. I liked being able to laugh and unwind thanks to the effects of THC, but it has also helped me work on my anxiety, which is something I think my body understood subconsciously. I enjoy vaporizing, cooking, and even making shakes with cannabis, so it became a plant that has accompanied me throughout many chapters of my life. I’ve also seen its healing effects on other people, the elderly or those navigating chronic pain or illnesses. So all this has led me to understand that cannabis, CBD, THC, it’s all healing and helpful to our society, and it’s an awakening that is starting to take hold collectively.”
BALTHVS' Balthazar Aguirre Colmenares
“Last year, we released a song called ‘Light It Up,’ which is part of our new album Cause & Effect and is inspired by ‘70s funk and the energy of downtown Bogota, where you see executives, students, and street folks walking around. It’s a collision of worlds, and the bike lanes and pedestrian streets foster a very social dynamic where everyone is outside together. That’s the spirit of the song, and I think we also captured it with the music video we recorded on April 20, 2021.”
“4/20 is sacred here. Everyone pours into the parks and lights up. In downtown Bogota, you can smell marihuana on every corner, in every place, at every moment. Consumption is decriminalized, and it has become a part of everyday usage, so you can imagine the smoke atmosphere that takes over on 4/20. Marihuana is becoming less taboo, and there’s a social change towards normalizing and regulating, so my hope is this will reduce stigma and [help us heal] from all the problems we had with the drug war in the past.”
“I tried weed for the first time when I was 13, and at 15, I ate some brownies that made me go, ‘esto está perrón!’ Durango, [where I grew up], is very conservative, so I only tried marihuana sporadically until I moved to Guadalajara at 21, where I got way more into it. At first, I liked smoking and watching movies or playing video games with some good munchies on deck. Later, I noticed how some of the guys would smoke in the studio, so I started joining in during rehearsals [and writing sessions], and performing high is a wild experience. It awoke a different sensibility in me, but there were a couple of months when I smoked all day every day, so I decided to take a break.”
“Nowadays, I only smoke when I’m alone, to write songs, or just hang out in my head for a while. I realized that it dried out my mouth when I had to sing and that it wasn’t always helpful, so now I see it as an additive so I can be looser in certain activities. I’ve written a few songs [for my new album] where I talk about weed in a romantic context, so I’ve been playing a lot with this idea of going out with someone and smoking together.”
“I’m relatively new to weed since some drug problems in my family kept me from [smoking it and trying psychedelics] until later in life. [In Brazil], as much as there are discussions about legalization, they are rarely taken seriously, even if ending the war on drugs could have direct consequences for millions of families in favelas and peripheral neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, the Bolsonaro government is opposed to even medicinal uses. I live in Portugal now, where they’ve decriminalized possession but production and distribution continue to be unregulated even though a large percentage of the population uses it. I thought in Europe, I would find more natural discussions, but the taboo of something as basic as weed exists.”
“Does it stimulate creativity? Sure. It also sharpens your senses to things you might not notice while sober. It’s like sugar, alcohol, social media, or sex. It can be great, but you need to be mindful of how you live it and how you consume it because it can also be harmful, and this gap is where conservative critics take hold.”
“Puerto Rico has definitely chilled out [when it comes to cannabis]. There isn’t as much stigma when you talk about it with your parents anymore and lots of adults smoke and speak about it publicly. I think the arrival of medical cannabis [in 2015] definitely shifted the narrative. Right now, there are dispensaries on every corner in Puerto Rico and with this level of visibility, it’s practically recreational, even if it’s still categorized as medicinal. That said, just about anybody can get it and there’s good quality weed everywhere. I don’t know if dispensaries are paying taxes, and I’m not sure just how regulated they are, but it’s a booming business because everyone has one at this point.”
“My own relationship with cannabis changes with the seasons, but it’s a habit I try to keep under control so I can remain active. I’m cautious, but there’s definitely cannabis in the air.”
“In Chile, there isn’t exactly a marihuana revolution, which means production, distribution, and commercialization are still illegal, but personal consumption is not criminalized. So you’re allowed to grow your own plants, and even though I am not one of those people, I have friends who are, and that is the marihuana I rather consume. I feel the energy of the plant and the person who grew it. For me, marihuana is a friend, an ally that helps me concentrate and focus. She helps me deal with anxiety and stress. She allows me to let go. I use marihuana both recreationally and medicinally, and over the years, I’ve regulated how much I take because too much can hamper my songwriting and melodies.”
“Marihuana is a stimulant that allows us to gather together, and I prefer it a thousand times over alcohol. Weed and coffee are one of my favorite combos — a great way to start my day. Sometimes when I have rehearsals, I light up beforehand to get me in the zone, but there is a line you should avoid crossing so your head doesn’t get filled with smoke.”