What is 4/20? The cannabis holiday explained


Every year on April 20th tens of thousands of people gathers all around the world to celebrate cannabis. In many cases, cannabis is still illegal in places that are celebrating. But, how did 4/20 become national weed day?

crowds gathering 
in Johannesburg on April 20th 2013. large joint sculpture in the middle of the crowd. 4/20
Johannesburg – April 20th, 2013

History of 4/20 – the origin of 4/20

It was all started by some San Rafael high school students, California, in the early 1970’s. There was a small group of friends that would get together and smoke. One of the friends had what they thought was a map to where weed was being grown. So, for weeks the group of friends would meet up at 4:20 in the afternoon to go look for the grow operation. They would meet up at a Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael high school.

After a few weeks of looking with no success, the hunt for the cannabis died. But 4:20 did not. During the 1970s, the general public did not view cannabis like it does today. So the group needed code words, and 420 became their code word for weed. One of the friends, Jeff Noel’s father was a state narcotics officer. This is another reason why their code was so important.

The group of friends would continue to meet up at 4:20 and smoke cannabis throughout the early 1970s.

Watch this video on YouTube.

How did 4/20 become an international event?

With no internet in the 70s, information was not spread like it is today. The group of friends had ties with a rock band called “the grateful dead”. The grateful dead played an important role in making 4/20 because they popularized it enough for high times magazine to get interested.

High times magazine published a story about 4/20 in the 1990s. Once high times published this story it was cemented in history. Since then, 4/20 has grown to become an international celebration for people who like cannabis.

person heloding a green pipe filled with a bowl of cannabis
person holding a pipe with cannabis at 4/20 event in san diego – 2015

What 4/20 is today

4/20 today is a celebration of cannabis. In countries and states where cannabis is illegal, 4/20 is often used as a movement to push legalization. However, Organizers of the 2014 Denver rally compared the battle for legal marijuana to “the time when Jews fled from slavery in Egypt”. This is an example of how 4/20 is used to push a political agenda. Businesses and companies are also trying to take advantage of 4/20. Some companies are trying to build and sponsor 4/20 gathering all around the country.

How 4/20 is changing

In the past, cannabis culture was not seen as it is today by the general public. The 4/20 holiday was originally a protest, in part, against the social and legal stigmas around cannabis. With recreational use becoming legal in countries and states around the world, big companies and corporations are jumping on the movement. Furthermore, some corporations are using 4/20 as an opportunity to promote their brand and products. This is similar to how beer companies promote their products with St. Patrick’s day.

This has, and will continue to change 4/20 from the countercultural movement it once was. A good way to explain this is; 420 was once used as a code word so other people didn’t know that they’re talking about weed. And now, on April 20th there’s a Snapchat filter publicly for everyone to use.

I don’t see how this a bad thing in any way, but I do think that there’s value in understanding what 4/20 once was compared to what it is today.

person in red shirt holding cannabis nugs
2018 – holding cannabis nugs

Popular 4/20 myths

There are lots of myths about where 4/20 came from. We have already broken down the real origin earlier on in this article, but here are some common myths:

The most common myth that still gets passed around to this day is that 4/20 is the police radio code for marijuana violations. Furthermore, In California, the penal code for marijuana use is 4/20. There is no evidence to support that either of these is true.

Another myth is that there are 420 chemical compounds found in cannabis. In cannabis, there are more than 500 active ingredients, and 85 known cannabinoids. So, there is no connection between 420 and the chemical make-up of cannabis.

You may also hear about the myth that 4/20 originated because of Albert Hoffman. In short, Hoffman was the man that created the psychedelic drug LSD. It is true that Hoffman did take LSD for the first time at 4:20, but this is just a coincidence. Psychedelic’s had no part in the origin of 4/20. Similar to Hoffman, people associate coincidences with the origin.

There is also plenty of myths about a famous celebrity being either born or dying on April 20th. The most popular being:

  • Bob Marley
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Bob Dylan

Is weed legal on 4/20?

Some people will tell you cannabis is legal on 4/20. If you look at the news or even google 4/20, you will probably see videos and pictures of people smoking cannabis directly in front of police officers. The truth is, 4/20 does not make weed legal. The people that are openly smoking cannabis in front of police are under the assumption that since everyone’s doing it, the police are not going to arrest just them. And of course, the police are not about to arrest 1000 people.

If cannabis is illegal where you live, and you do plan on going to a 4/20 festival, please do not ‘spark one up in front of a cop. There might not be a ton of people getting arrested, but every year there is some. Don’t be an idiot and smoke in front of a cop.

The 420 games – How 4/20 is changing the way people look at cannabis

The 420 games are an event started by Jim Mcalpine to end the stigma around healthy and responsible cannabis use. The games are athletic events to try and prove:

  • Responsible cannabis use is not associated with laziness
  • People who use cannabis responsibly are not lazy
Watch this video on YouTube.

In the words of Jim Mcalpine, “We’re coming off decades of negative propaganda stigmatizing cannabis use. We’ve all been lied to. It’s a bad rap and we need to change the dialogue. There are millions of people who use marijuana in an effective, healthy and productive way”

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