Bakersfield has a few nicknames, from Bakerspatch to B-town to Bako.
But on 4/20, maybe “Baked” would be more accurate — especially for that subculture of thousands who partake of the green bud of happiness, the smokable, edible, vapable, yes, even suppository-able plant known as cannabis.
This day, April 20, does have meaning for many locals who smoke weed — 420 parties are scheduled, and there’s a certain cultural aspect. But some interviewed for this story said they certainly don’t need an excuse like 420 to light up.
“It’s sort of like our Christmas, sort of like our New Year’s — all in one,” said Alex Sanchez, 22, a volunteer at the Green Nugget, a cannabis co-operative on Niles Street.
“It’s just another day,” he said. “You shouldn’t need an excuse day to show your pride.”
This April 20, or 420 — a “code” for smoking weed that has several origin stories floating around — is the first April 20 since Proposition 64 last November made it legal for individuals to have and grow marijuana for personal use.
There will be parties, Sanchez said. Including the sixth annual 420 party at Green Gate on Union Avenue. “Valid medical patients only,” the party flyer cautions.
Inside the Green Nugget, it’s clean and relaxed, with a lounge for smokers, a sales room where myriad jars exhibit myriad strains of perfectly coiffed buds, some dark green, some light green, some with a reddish tint.
“The thing about us is we are here to help people,” said 19-year-old Janet Sandoval, who works at the shop.
Below the jars of product, a wide array of “edibles” and concentrated forms of cannabis, all packaged commercially, are on display. Cheeba Chews, for example, are a paper-wrapped chewy candy infused with cannabis, Sanchez explained.
In another room of the converted home, two glass pipes stood atop a counter, a propane burner close at hand. Sanchez dropped a tiny sliver of “dab,” a concentrated form of marijuana, into the small pipe bowl, heated it with the burner, and waited.
Then he inhaled, the smoke rising visibly through neck of the glass pipe.
"A little pinpoint is all you need," he said.
Sanchez is tired of the stereotypes of stoners as unmotivated, unproductive, or worse, immoral. The "propaganda, the media," have long demonized the plant and the people who use it, he said.
Other smokers interviewed for this story agreed, including a local college professor who asked that his name not be used for fear of losing his job.
"People have been brainwashed for decades. Many are completely ignorant of the reality," he said. "They've been taught to think that anyone who smokes pot is evil. This didn't happen by accident."
Corporate profits, law enforcement jobs, and a centuries-old stigma against individuals — especially women — who used herbs for healing all played a part in the criminalization of cannabis in the early 20th century.
As far as the stereotype goes, of smokers being unmotivated, the college professor, a smoker for 40 years, noted he has been employed for decades, writes, studies, teaches, has helped raise successful children and is earning yet another advanced degree in a field he is excited to be exploring.
"Unfortunately, cannabis carries a stigma in places that are backward," he said.
While the changing laws have compelled police to make adjustments, Bakersfield Police Department Detective Ryan Vaughan noted that "officers will be enforcing the law just as they do on any other day."
Vaughan, acting as spokesman for the department, pointed to California Health and Safety Code 11362.3, which outlines all the things pot smokers are prohibited from doing such as smoking in many public places; smoking in a location where smoking tobacco is prohibited; or smoking within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center.
Jonathan Hunter, 30, a local songwriter and hip-hop artist, said he started smoking at 18.
"I wanted to wait until I was an adult before I tried it," he said. "There was no peer pressure."
Now, he is an enthusiastic smoker, although he has laid off for months at a time with no problems.
"In Bakersfield, weed is a big part of the local culture, at least as big as the Bay Area or L.A.
"I travel for music," he said. "The culture of weed is heavier here, even though this is a conservative town."
Hunter said he has formed many relationships, including business relationships, that began with cannabis as the common denominator.
"To me, 420 is nothing more than a celebration of the culture of weed smokers," he said. "Because it really is a culture. It's discussed in blogs, it brings people together."
The numbers are huge, he said of the local culture.
"If you put together a community of all the weed smokers here in Bakersfield, you'd be surprised at the number."
The changes are not without controversy. The number of co-ops and their placement near neighborhoods has some complaining that crime follows.
But proponents of cannabis like Alex Sanchez believe the reform of marijuana laws will bring changes in attitude.
"I am beginning to see a more diverse culture," he said. "Not the average early 20s stereotypical stoner. But people who are genuinely seeking an alternative to not only pain management, but a wide range of medical treatments."
He's tired of the stigma, tired of the history of incarceration and the myths associated with cannabis.
Said Sanchez, "I'm just trying to humanize it."