420 THE HIGH HOLIDAY
As April 20th rolls around, many of our more free-spirited friends will be celebrating marijuana’s unofficial official holiday. As marijuana itself has seen increasing social acceptance and legalization in several states, the popularity of the holiday has grown as well. All sorts of events have emerged over the years to mark 4/20, whether it’s sophisticated wine tastings, thc infused five-course dinner, guided arts and crafts, Bob Marley listening parties, or just groups of friends making plans to get high, it symbolizes slightly different things to all who celebrate it. I know I’m not the only one who’s wondered about origins of the increasingly ubiquitous holiday, so why “420”?
There’s been a few urban myths floating around. I remember hearing in high school that 4/20 was when Bob Marley died (easily checkable: that’s false). It’s also been speculated that it’s the death anniversary for musical figures like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix, all known to have smoked pot. These guesses are all false too. Another theory that’s floated around is that 420 is the police scanner code that’s used when an officer spots an individual that’s smoking or intoxicated, but “420” actually isn’t the code for anything. It’s also been theorized that 420 denotes the section of California’s penal code that prohibits marijuana, but this turns out to be false for California and every other state. A lot of people are aware of the California State Senate’s Bill 420 which regulates marijuana’s use for medical purposes, but that was named after 420 was already established as a nickname for weed.
The most bizarre theory I’ve come across is that the first scientist to isolate and synthesize the chemical LSD, took the first intentional hit of LSD at 4:20 pm on April 19 in 1943. This actually happens to be true, and proven by the scientist’s lab notes, but LSD isn’t exactly the same thing as weed. According to consensus, 4/20 is probably not any kind of a historical marker.
All of these stories are slightly weird, but it turns out the commonly accepted story is somehow even more elaborate. In northern California in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School got ahold of a map from a friend’s brother who was worried his marijuana crop was going to be found. The hand-drawn map showed the location of a plot at Point Reyes, and the teens started to meet up after school at 4:20 to look for the plot. Meeting at 4:20 gave the members of the group who had after school activities just enough time to get to the Louis Pasteur that was designated as their meeting spot. When they met up, they would smoke weed and then head out to search for the crop. They never found the plot, but the meetups became more about hanging out and smoking. They started referring to themselves “the Waldos” and to the meetups as “420.”
Calling weed smoking “420” spread through a few of their friends and wound up reaching some acquaintances who were associated with the Grateful Dead. 420 exploded in the 90s when the band put out a flier that said “meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County” and this was reported in the cannabis-themed paper High Times.
While 420 initially represented just a fun time to get together, it’s also taken on political dimensions as some use the day to call for legalization of marijuana by publicizing their consumption in places where it’s still not legal. Someone looking to participate in 420 can choose between events ranging from comedy shows and trance dance parties to film screenings and lectures on what decriminalization would mean. Regardless of whether 420 represents civil disobedience or just recovering joie de vivre to you, hopefully you enjoy April 20th with a little more info.