Origins Of 420: What Matters, And What Doesn’t


Graphic: Radioactive24two/Deviant Art

​As a veteran of stoner culture who can remember the years before mass media latched onto the 420 phenomenon in general, and specifically the celebration of April 20 (4/20) as America’s fastest-growing holiday and high celebration of all things cannabis, I have to admit I find the entire scenario a little strange.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled that marijuana gets a holiday of its own, and even more so that it then gets the coverage, as an issue, that it really deserves all 365 days a year. The consumption of cannabis in public places by large crowds of people carries some powerful symbolism and is a meaningful show of solidarity.
​At the same time, I’m well aware that those who are inclined to dismiss the seriousness and validity of the marijuana movement are simply going to use April 20 to do exactly that — and then ignore it again for 364 more days.

Photo: Green Eyed
Green Eyed, of Sacramento, California, is already ahead of you in the celebrating. Get busy!

Fomenting stoner stereotypes is, of course, easier than actually thinking about and wrestling with the real issues around marijuana’s illegality.
This type of lazy thinking — and lazy journalism — is much in evidence every year around this time.
Never mind those buzz-kills, though… Now that we’ve been passed a holiday (on the left hand side), let’s deep-lung a big hit of 420 culture and enjoy it.
The best revenge is, indeed, living well.

Origins Of 420

​The most popular legend explaining the cannabis symbolism of 420 is that it started when a group of stoner teens at San Rafael High in California supposedly gathered at 4:20 p.m. every day to smoke pot next to a statue of Louis Pasteur.

Photo: Zazzle

​”The Waldos,” as the story goes, supposedly have items of date-documented evidence, including some from the San Rafael Police Department, which they offer as provenance of the story. The practice then passed, we are told, from those high high school students into the Grateful Dead subculture, whence it spread throughout the land.
So where did these students come up with 4:20 as a time to get high? They may have been inspired, one theory goes, by an old H.P. Lovecraft story written in 1936, “In The Walls Of Eryx,” where a man exploring Venus encounters a “mirage-plant” and sees “shimmering spectral scenery.” Upon regaining his senses, the explorer looks at his watch and sees that it is 4:20.
If you don’t like these stories, there are supposedly more than 30 other explanations of 420 symbolism from which to pick, including esoterica like the fact that in Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” with its popular refrain “Everybody must get stoned,” 12 x 35 = 420.
In any event, the phenomenon had taken firm root and come to bloom by the early 1990s.
Ultimately, at this point, it hardly matters where the 420 phenomenon came from. If it means more public discussion — and consumption — of the sacramental herb, then that’s a good thing.
April 20 as 4/20 Day

Photo: CALM
It gets pretty smoky in Vancouver on April 20. This a shot from the 2009 party.

​The celebration of April 20 as 4/20 Day reportedly started in Vancouver, Brtisih Columbia in 1995. Employees at Marc Emery’s original hemp store, HEMP BC, led by two enterprising young ladies named Danna Rozek and Cindy Lassu, decided to hold a 4/20 celebration on April 20 next door to the store in Victory Park.
Two hundred people reportedly showed up for that first 4/20 Day, and the celebration grew to 500 the next year. The rapidly growing event was moved to the Vancouver Art Gallery for 1997, where more than a thousand people attended.
Wide media coverage ensued, and the April 20 unofficial holiday spread throughout North America and then the world.
Mass media, as it is inclined to do, is playing catch-up, and now has jumped into the 420 Day phenomenon with both feet. The media tend to run either earnest or sarcastic pieces about it every year. If you get asked a dumb marijuana question by a clueless journalist, be nice. Then if he or she wants to be mean in the article, it’s on them, not you.
Don’t Forget The Issues

Graphic: NORML

​While smoking pot and listening to music are the primary activities for the 4/20 holiday, it’s also a time to renew commitment to the serious issues being faced by the marijuana movement. These include decriminalization, medical marijuana legalization, and overall legalization.
Both decrim and medical marijuana have the wind at their back, with 14 states in each column (some states such as California and Oregon have both decriminalized adult use and legalized medical use).
Legalizing is a tougher cookie to crumble, but stoners are storming the ramparts as we speak, with full pot legalization definitely on the November ballot in California, likely on the ballot in Oregon, and with a good shot at the ballot in Washington state.
NORML has launched a new advertisement for 4/20 on Times Square’s largest elect
ronic billboard, calling out New York City politicians and law enforcement for having one of the highest — and most racially tinged — cannabis arrest rates in the United States. The ad will run 18 times a day until late May, and will be seen by an estimated 1.5 million Times Square visitors, according to NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre.
It’s been suggested that you mark the day by writing a letter letting your legislators and Congressmen know where you stand on the marijuana issue, and I echo that call. I do, however, further suggest that if you’ve been herbally celebrating the day, you consider regaining control of your penmanship before doing so.
And by all means, at 4:19 local time, today, observe a minute of silence for the late, great Emperor of Hemp, Jack Herer.
Enjoy 4/20!
And as my friend Calcutta Cross says, just remember it comes twice, every day.