The History of 4/20

Happy 4/20!

Stoners everywhere are lighting up in celebration of this infamous holiday. And post-2020 with reform legislation sweeping the nation, there’s more than ever to celebrate. In my home state of New York, recreational weed was legalized just weeks ago and since then New Mexico has approved recreational weed and the House of Representatives voted to allow banks to work with cannabis businesses without fear of federal repercussions.

This year is extra-special because it’s also the 50th anniversary of 4/20.

But what is 4/20? How did it get started?

Like me, you may have heard that 4/20 started because it was the police code for “weed smoking in progress”. But that isn’t true, nor are a variety of other rumors involving Bob Dylan and even Hitler.

The Start of 4/20

The most credible story for the origins of 4/20 go back to California in the 1970s (of course). 420 was the code for cannabis used by 5 students who would meet at 4:20 to smoke by a statue of chemist Louis Pasteur. They originally gathered in search of a crop of cannabis plants in a nearby field, and although they were not successful in finding it, they did create cannabis history in the process.

One of the students would go on to work with the Grateful Dead who would help popularize the term. In 1990, a group of Deadheads handed out flyers in Oakland that invited people to smoke on April 20 at 4:20 pm. Fatefully, one of the flyers ended up with a reporter from the High Times magazine, who printed it and continued to reference the number.

Today, 4/20 has become an international counterculture holiday for people to gather and consume cannabis. While we have seen incredible strides towards the end of prohibition across North America, there are still many states throughout the US where cannabis is illegal, and it remains illegal on a federal level (though it is no longer a Schedule 1 Drug). Many of these gatherings on 4/20 advocate for the end of prohibition and the legalization of recreational cannabis.

After a global pandemic and a year when weed sales rose exponentially (160% in California alone), it’s safe to say that this is the most indulgent 4/20 yet. And possession is finally legalized in New York, so go ahead and light up- you deserve it.

How to Celebrate 4/20

  • Advocate for those still incarcerated on non-violent cannabis charges
  • Advocate for the expungement of all cannabis-related records in states where recreational weed is legalized
  • Try a new cannabis recipe
  • Roll a fat joint (here’s how)
  • Watch a weed documentary like The Grass is Greener, The Culture High and The Legend of 420.
  • Learn about weed etiquette

Published by Jessica Reilly, Writer

Writer, cannabis aficionado, and poetry lover

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