What’s The History Behind 4/20 - April 20th
Estimated 4-minute read
From a code among police officers to Bob Dylan’s songs, people speculated when and how the term “4/20” became an expression for smoking marijuana.
Nowadays, cannabis enthusiasts have marked a day to celebrate marijuana as a holiday every April 20. You may be familiar with the catchphrase, but do you know how 4/20 came to be? Take a seat, and let me tell you a story.
How the 4/20 holiday came to be? - The Origin of 4/20
The tale of how 4/20 developed has been passed down from one generation to another; much like myths and legends, storytellers have taken or even added parts of its origins until we were left with a variety of different stories. A few years ago, Time Magazine traced down the inception of 4/20 back to 1970 in Marin County, California, USA.
More than 50 years ago, five teenagers at San Rafael High School would meet in a specific place on campus around the hour where extracurricular activities had usually ended, and you guessed it, at 4:20 p.m.
The group of friends known as the Waldos consisted of Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich, who got tired of the typical Friday night football scene, where there was always a crowd of people and all the school jocks. Reddix recalls being “the guys sitting under the stands smoking a doobie, wondering what we were doing there.”
In exchange for the Friday jockey experience, the group decided to change their rendezvous. Instead of football games, they started meeting at a wall near the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur at their high school campus, giving them their nickname as the Waldos.
Years later, Dave Reddix’s brother helped him get a job as a roadie with bassist Phil Lesh, who was part of the Grateful Dead rock band. Reddix continued to use 4/20 as code for marijuana, and I guess the number stuck because it’s well known that the band popularized the Waldos’s term.
In 1991, High Times Magazine printed a flyer along with a story about the Waldos, where it suggested that 4:20 was a good time of the day for smoking pot. Soon, 4/20 went from being Waldo’s inside joke to a worldwide code, and 30 years later, here we are. This holiday has become a celebration, a message of unity, and even a symbol to protest systemic problems and the war against drugs.
What does 4/20 celebrate?
It is no secret that 420 has become a massive holiday for people who enjoy cannabis. There’s really no official consensus on how people should celebrate or what they should do during the holiday -apart from smoking marijuana-but, whether it’s for getting high and having fun or taking some time to push for cannabis legalization, everyone lives this holiday in their own way.
Vox reminds us that, intentionally or not, 4/20 has always been a part of a minor counterculture movement that embraces cannabis as a symbol of protest, especially against border systematic problems in the US. Consequently, activists have tried to bring a more formal aspect to the celebration, seizing the holiday as a moment to push their political agenda and rallying people to speak up. Back in 2014, a group of activists at a Denver rally wrote the following statement:
“This year’s rally represents the continuing fight for freedom from economic slavery for marginalized members of our community and a rebirth of creative genius that will get us there.”
Changes in the 4/20 holiday
Throughout the years, 4/20 has become a commercial holiday, where cannabis businesses harness the power of this celebration to show off their products. Some big companies even feature big concerts with artists such as Snoop Dog.
Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, told Vox that a big part of the holiday was used to protest the social and legal stigmas against marijuana and protest civil disobedience. “As big businesses and corporations begin to grow, sell, and market pot, marijuana is losing its status as a counterculture symbol, which could bring the end of the traditional, countercultural 4/20.”
As every big holiday like Christmas, Easter, or even Valentine’s Day, its meaning starts to change with different social factors, and new generations begin to participate in the celebration. What matters is that people commemorate how 4/20 came to be, its purpose, and its next steps. So don’t worry if you’re not a cannabis advocate or you’re not marching down the street with your “legalize marijuana” sign; staying home to enjoy a joint with your friends is entirely valid and worthy of your time.
However, if an outing sounds about right and you wish to participate in different concerts, markets, and events, check this guide out to see which cities in the US will be holding 4/20 celebrations! What are your plans for 4/20?
Author: Mary Jane