OAKLAND—Forget Hippie Hill. For thoroughly modern marijuana smokers in the San Francisco Bay area, the hip place to celebrate their movement's high holiday this year was the inside of a stretch Hummer parked outside a pot gardening superstore where entrepreneurs mingled with investors and a city councilman.
Marijuana legalization advocates across the country are expected to light up during Tuesday's annual observance of 4/20, the celebration-cum-mass civil disobedience derived from "420" - insider shorthand for cannabis consumption. IGrow, a 3-month-old cultivation equipment emporium, got a 24-hour jump start on the festivities by sponsoring a "420 Eve" festival Monday afternoon.
"I wouldn't have thought we would be able to consume on site," marveled John Corral, 19, of San Jose, after he obtained a wristband that gave him access to the event's two "vapor lounges," the one inside the Hummer and another inside a companion Range Rover limousine.
Two years ago, before he had a doctor's recommendation to smoke pot, Corral commemorated 4/20 on Hippie Hill, the Golden Gate Park promontory where an earlier generation of pot aficionados made their stand. IGrow has arranged to have a doctor working at the store three days a week to evaluate people seeking to become medical marijuana patients, and a handful of those at the 420 Eve party were able to snag last-minute appointments.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the drug's steady movement from counterculture indulgence to mainstream acceptance will be evident elsewhere in the United States Tuesday, when four cable television channels have scheduled "a good chunk of programming to 420."
St. Pierre said that with the terms "marijuana" or "cannabis" regularly showing up on the top Internet searches and a measure to legalize the plant's recreational use appearing on as many as four state ballots in November, it's clear that groups like his, which has lobbied to decriminalize marijuana since 1970, are no longer blowing smoke.
"There is a large mainstreaming of all of this," he said. "Some of it is happening because of natural forces and some of it is happening because commercial entities looking to comport with local social mores and values are taking advantage of this bizarre numerology."
At the iGrow event, Tom Patton of GrowOp Technology, proudly discussed the inspiration for the "Big Bud" growing trailer he developed with Derek Peterson, a former stock broker. Patton said he kept hearing about pot growers who "were constantly putting up and taking down" grow rooms built inside warehouses or residential homes because of complaints from neighbors, fires sparked by faulty wiring or threats of law enforcement raids.
His pot room on wheels, which comes outfitted with a security system and technology to adjust temperature and humidity levels from an iPhone, may not completely eliminate the last concern, but that hasn't stopped a pair of New York bankers from investing in the invention.
"This is an enabling technology, not a hiding-out technology," Patton said.
The lure of revenue and respectability has prompted some veterans of the marijuana wars to diversify. Joshua Freeman, a Sonoma County pot grower, was at the 420 Eve festival handing out samples of the specialty plant food he recently developed and is trying to market.
"We are not just a bunch of stoners sitting back on a couch playing video games," Freeman said.