Steven Hager
HTV: Watch Steven Hager explain 420 on ABC Television
Do you know what 420 means? Several times over the past few years, HIGH TIMES has attributed "420" to a code used by the San Rafael police department. However, the department has always denied this and I've come to the conclusion they are telling the truth. I was recently contacted by a group known as the "Waldos," who claim to have originated 420 in San Rafael in 1971. The group began meeting every day at 4:20 PM after school and eventually began to use 420 as a code for marijuana so they could talk about pot in front of parents and teachers.

If this is true, why did 420 become so popular and spread so quickly around the world?

One reason is because San Rafael is the home to the Grateful Dead and 420 spread for many years within the Deadhead community before it appeared on the Hemp 100 in HIGH TIMES. Once it appeared in HIGH TIMES, however, the expression spread farther and faster than ever.

But why have so many cannabis users embraced the 420 concept?

I believe 420 is a ritualization of cannabis use that holds deep meaning for our subculture. It also points us in a direction for the responsible use of cannabis. Before one can understand the difference between responsible and irresponsible use of cannabis, one must come to terms with the fact there are really two cannabis cultures in America, smart stoners and stupid stoners.

The stupid stoners wake and bake on exam days. They think being high is an end in itself and strive to be stoned as often as possible. When a stupid stoner shows up at your house, they usually feel it's their duty to compulsively decimate whatever stash you have immediately and save nothing for later. I'm sure we all know a few of these people. The stupid stoners are the people Cheech and Chong made fun of when they created the most widely accepted stereotype of a pothead.

The smart stoners, on the other hand, are the ones who use cannabis as a creative tool to enhance their lives. They know cannabis can be an asset if used intelligently. Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, Louis Armstrong, Ken Kesey, and Stephen Gaskin are among the many cultural icons that fall into the smart stoner category.

But what does all this have to do with 420?

First, it means it's better to wait to start smoking pot until 4:20 PM--unless, of course, you have a medical reason for starting sooner. The people who roll out of bed and immediately start smoking, and continue smoking throughout the day, don't get as high as the people who wait until 4:20. The late afternoon is the time to step back and review the day's events. It's the time to brainstorm. Cannabis, sunsets and brainstorms just seem to naturally go together. The people who use cannabis sparingly get more impact than those who use it continuously. The more you smoke, the less high you get. Smoke less, and you get higher. This has always been my experience.

Second, 420 is a model for how cannabis should be portrayed to children, which is the most important issue as far as many prohibitionists are concerned. We have to convince these people the use of cannabis by children will not go up after legalization. We have to convince them we are not interested in recruiting their children to join our cannabis society.

Ever since the Partnership for a Drug-Free America began putting ads on television targeting the use of cannabis by children, more kids have been using marijuana. Obviously, the more you talk about marijuana in front of children, the more curious they are going to be about it. Telling them that it's bad is not going to be much of a deterrent. In fact, many kids just naturally enjoy the outlaw thrill of breaking rules set by adults. Right now, it's easier for kids to buy marijuana than it is for them to buy a six-pack of beer because the cannabis is sold out on the streets, while the beer is sold in licensed and regulated outlets.

The solution is not to put more negative advertising on television, but to stop talking about pot in front of children. All that's needed to accomplish this is for the adults to establish a code for cannabis, one that the children don't understand.

We also have to ritualize the use of cannabis and turn it into a rite of passage. That way, when our teenagers reach the proper age, they can be inducted into adulthood by being awarded with the keys to the cannabis code.

And what is the "right age?"

That varies considerably. I like the standard set by Stephen Gaskin in his book Cannabis Spirituality. "...there's a ceremonial place," writes Gaskin, "when a teenager takes up as much space as a grownup, eats as much food as a grownup and works as much as a grownup. They participate in creating the adult community vibe. It isn't fair at that point to treat them as children. I think some teenagers can be damaged by being excluded from important ceremonies."

Stupid stoners may feel part of the hemp revolution, but they are, in fact, part of the problem. If we want to convince the straight world cannabis is not a dangerous plant, we must use the plant wisely, not irresponsibly. We have to be stoner smart, not stoner stupid. So, which side of the coin do you want to be on? The same side as Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong and Willie Nelson? Or do you want to be stoner stupid?