Once again the supreme stoner holiday of 4/20 is upon us, meaning it’s time (even if it’s not 4:20) to fire up those super-sized fatty joints and take an extra long hit from the bong. Drab, depressing Tax Day is in the rearview mirror, meaning it’s OUR day to get high, buzzed, stoned or whatever level you plan on ascending to on this day of days, the one day of the year we consciously celebrate being stoners. Like other aspects of stoner culture, no one gave it to us, not the government, not a card company, not a religion. Nobody bestowed 4/20 upon “Stonerdom.” We had to create it from within our own culture. But that’s okay, because that’s the way we’ve always done it and the way it was meant to be, with the results being more sincere. The New York Times didn’t start HIGH TIMES – Tom Forçade did, and he was one of us, a pot smoker. We’ve always created our own reading materials, music and terminology, so creating our own “high holiday” is no exception.
420 used to be code for getting high, but now even the oldest cop on the beat knows what 420 stands for, so it’s no longer just stoner-speak for furtively sneaking in the back alley with your buds to pass a joint in a huddled circle. In 2010 420 is no longer a secretive cipher but rather a representative symbol.
We’ve all heard the origin of 420: in Northern California in 1971, a group of San Rafael High School students (known as The Waldos) would meet by the Louis Pasteur statue to smoke pot after school at 4:20 p.m. The Pasteur statue was but an initial meeting point for The Waldos to search for wild pot growing in nearby Point Reyes. They never found the wild pot, but smoked plenty of their own during their quest. San Rafael was also the headquarters of the Grateful Dead whose fanbase embraced the code. (For more on the origins of 420 see Steve Hager’s ABC News interview.)
Today 4/20 can be seen as a “Stoner Thanksgiving Day” of sorts, where one can be grateful we’re living in a true Renaissance period of pot, with innovative technology and grow techniques spawning so many amazing strains, running the gamut from mind-blowing sativa to soothing indica and everything in between – and all of it so, so tasty. You can also aptly cast 4/20 as a “St. Patrick’s Day for stoners,” a day to celebrate our party favor of choice, just as drinkers celebrate alcohol every March 17 – and green as a theme color is just as appropriate for 4/20…
There are, however, two key differences between the two celebrated intoxicants: alcohol can kill and pot cannot, yet alcohol is legal and pot is not. Though that may be changing – another reason this 4/20 is special; it may be the last one celebrated in California while marijuana is illegal (a November 2010 ballot initiative would legalize pot for general recreational use in the Golden State).
4/20 has been celebrated on a widespread basis for nearly two decades now. Though 4/20 is generally associated with hedonistic fun and stoner humor, there is a deeper meaning. Because 4/20 occurs two days before the official celebration of Earth Day (4/22) it is inherently part of Earth Week, and the two events have always seemed connected. Cannabis has long been the primary drug of choice for ‘back to nature’ types and eco-activists. Earth Day, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2010, rose to prominence along with 4/20 in this new century, boosted by the Green movement and medical pot / legalization movements respectively.
Several religious holidays are actually celebrated on 4/20, including a Christian Feast Day for two saints and one prioress. It’s also the Baha'i Faith's holy day of Ridvan – which means “paradise,” and many stoners can attest to being taken to that very realm by a session of smoking the kind. 4/20 is even a special day for Scientology, so there’s room for everyone. (And yes, we’re well aware of the “dark side” of 4/20, but this is a positive essay).
An association between cannabis and Christianity might seem tenuous, but given Christianity’s undeniable pagan origins, and the intertwined relationship between many pagan religions and psychoactive drugs such as cannabis, the juxtaposition seems fitting. Some researchers (notably Chris Bennett) have found evidence of cannabis use in the bible. (For more on cannabis and Christianity see Chris Bennett’s “Was Jesus a Stoner?” and “Christians & Pot: A High Holy History”)
Use of cannabis as a spiritual catalyst dates back at least 2,500 years with the Scythians (Iranians) using it in funeral rituals and in India, charas (hand-made hashish) have been smoked by the Hindu sub-religion that worships Shiva (as opposed to Vishnu) for thousands of years, even today with bhang (cannabis) being outlawed in India since 1986.
And while holidays like Memorial Day ask that we remember fallen troops, let us take a moment this 4/20, during all the stony celebrating, to reflect on the life of cannabis activist Jack Herer, who recently passed away. Jack did so much to revive the culture of 4/20 in the late 1980’s. While it’s true Jack was a tireless promoter of the many wonders of hemp, he was also a shameless advocate of getting stoned just for the sake of getting stoned, the essence of 4/20.
4/20 is not just an American phenomenon; it’s also celebrated throughout New Zealand and in Canada, particularly the Vancouver/BC region. Leave it to France not recognize April 20 as the stoner holiday but rather allegedly celebrate on June 18, the date of a famous speech in 1940 by Charles de Gaulle during the French Resistance. But since June 18 is very close to the period of the significant neopagan holiday of Midsummer (June 21 through 24), there could be a similar connection for the French as there is for us in the relation between 4/20 and Earth Day.
4/20 isn’t the only cannabis related annual event; there’s the Hash Bash at the University of Michigan held the first Saturday in April, Hash Wednesday at the University of Illinois (held the third Wednesday of every month) and the May Day Celebrations held around the globe on the first Saturday in May. But all those events tend to have an activist element surrounding them, whereas 4/20 is an unabashed celebration of the joys of getting high from smoking, eating or vaporizing the best drug yet produced on Planet Earth.
An annual 4/20 celebration held at the University of Colorado-Boulder has drawn over 10,000 in recent years. Despite the insidious act of university cops photographing participants and the school sending creepy emails warning students to avoid the party, the UC-Boulder 4/20 celebration grows yearly. University of California-Santa Cruz holds a much-publicized 4/20 celebration on campus at Porter Meadow. Despite annual local police and school official efforts to curtail the event, every year it goes on as planned, with thousands of people, both students and stoners in general gathering together to smoke California’s finest. The marijuana-crazy town of Arcata, California, located in the famed grower’s paradise of “The Emerald Triangle” celebrates 4/20 so enthusiastically every year they shutdown the town square. Imagine that happening in Chicago or New York…
There is the consideration that 4/20 will no longer be regarded as a “stoner holiday” if marijuana is portrayed as more “dignified” in a post-legalization society. Is there a chance 4/20 could fade away because it won't fit some kind of new, corporate-tinged presentation of legal and medicinal marijuana? Or will 4/20 remain a vital stoner holiday?
Both the influential Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project have previously eschewed official 4/20 revelry because of its association with the “non-serious, partying” aspect of marijuana, such as crazy eight-foot bong-toking instead of protesting for patients and decriminalization. But pot’s not supposed to be serious all the time, despite the horrors of the War on Drugs. That’s the whole point of using pot, because it’s fun. It can’t be politics 24/7, because the original motivation for legalizing for recreational purposes comes from the pleasure derived from smoking pot, and that people want the right to have that pleasurable feeling any time they choose. The politics and the passion have to go hand-in-hand
Conclusion? 4/20 is here to stay. In an ideal world, 4/20 would be recognized as an official holiday, although the sub-rosa appeal of it is probably for the best, keeping it off calendars filled with “National Peanut Week” and “Spay Your Cat Day.” But there’s no denying the media coverage; Family Guy aired a pro-pot “Episode 4/20” and a recent Saturday Night Live skit featured “Agent 4/20” with Pineapple Express stoner star James Franco playing a buzzed take on James Bond. Even mainstream TV programs and news shows reference and report on 4/20 as it becomes more ingrained in the culture at large, a reflection of pot’s increasing acceptability in the 21st century. If anything, rather than 4/20 losing its meaning, there might be a concern that 4/20 could be co-opted by corporate America and over-hyped, tarnishing its original underground credibility.
But for now, 4/20 is just as it should be, a day to celebrate your drug of choice while visiting your local headshop (some hold 4/20 parties!), hitting up a concert, going to a pot party, communing with nature or just kicking back in your crib and vegging out. Do any and all of this whether you prefer to fire up a bowl of mind-rushing Train Wreck in a snazzy glass pipe or a vaporize a couch-melting Granddaddy Purple, it’s all there for us and it’s only going to get better.