The Dawn of a New 420

To celebrate California’s first fully legal 420, San Francisco dispensaries turned to vinyl and drag queens.


For many pot enthusiasts, 420 will always be a day to gather with hundreds of fellow stoners and smoke a truly staggering amount of cannabis. However, for dispensaries, the occasion also offers a chance to make big sales and hopefully welcome some new customers into the fold.

On Friday, cannabusinesses across the Bay Area made the most of their first 420 since adult-use sales went into effect. SPARC’s director of product Joshua Hoffman created something special for patrons: a limited-edition vinyl record featuring “Mary Jane” by Bobby Rush and “Fire Eater” by Rusty Bryant.

The dispensary made 500 copies available to its customers, a move Hoffman says was inspired by a desire to combine the holiday with something not entirely cannabis-specific.

“We thought, ‘If we have unlimited access at this point, then we can sell things that are a part of the cannabis culture but not necessarily a cannabis product,’ ” Hoffman explains. “We tried to think about where and how people smoke. What are they doing? What are the subcultures within the cannabis culture?”

Eventually, the team landed on music. Working with the label Jazz Dispensary, they created “Private Stock Series #001,” a translucent-blue double-sided single produced by Jack White’s Third Man Pressing.

Hoffman acknowledges that Record Store Day, which occurred one day later, may serve as a blueprint for 420 in the future.

“The thing about Record Store Day is that there are exclusives,” he says. “That’s why I go to Record Store Day. I think 420 is going to have to move towards a Record Store Day model, in the sense that there’s excitement for the exclusive items — as opposed to excitement only for the celebration of the day. You have to combine it all.”

While Hoffman watched as SPARC customers bought vinyl records alongside their buds, Eliot Dobris — chief marketing officer for Apothecarium — marveled at the diversity of people walking through the doors.

“You just saw every age,” Dobris says. “We had every type of person and every heritage. There were lots of seniors. Lots of women. There were whole families coming in together — adult children with their parents. It just felt like the stigma around cannabis had really diminished.”

At the Apothecarium’s flagship store on Market Street, a line of 30 or so people waited for the doors to open at 9 a.m. While free gift bags for the first hundred customers likely inspired a few of the early risers, Dobris says the lines continued throughout the day. He also noticed what people were buying, which seemed to follow a trend.

“Our top-selling products on 420 were all about convenience,” he says. “So: pre-rolled joints, vape pens, and low-dose edibles — especially gummies — were really popular.”

Although there were no vinyl records to be found at Apothecarium, the day was certainly filled with fanfare. Fittingly, some of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made an appearance, and Dobris confirms the 2018 installment of 420 was one of the dispensary’s busiest days yet.

It’s possible Apothecarium may soon have their own inventive collaboration to share with customers too. According to Dobris, the allure is certainly there — and at long last, mutual.

“It seems like every month, more and more people are interested in working with us,” he says. “They want to partner with us and do business together. The number of companies who say, ‘Eh, you’re in cannabis — we can’t be associated with you’ is diminishing.”

To be certain, the appeal of a hazy afternoon on Hippie Hill amid swirls of tie-dye and plumes of smoke shows no sign of waning. The communal side of 420 will never go away, but there is no ignoring the reality that the unofficial high holy day of cannabis now also represents a hugely profitable occasion for an industry still finding its footing.

“I love the story of how 420 came to be,” Dobris says. “It happened as naturally and organically as imaginable, but it has grown into something” much, much larger.

“This first 420 with adult-use was something that we wanted to get right,” Hoffman adds. “Everyone had to scratch something together with very short notice because no one really knew what the regulations were going to be. People did some interesting things to draw attention to their stores. It’s a fun industry to be in because there’s a lot of experimentation going on right now.”

Related Stories