Every year on April 20, cannabis smokers across the country light up and enjoy the wonders of a three-leafed plant. Around 12% of adults in America said they smoke weed, according to a 2019 poll from Gallup, which is only 2% lower than adults who smoked cigarettes that same year.
But how did 4/20 originate? And better yet, why is it an essential part of cannabis culture?
The origins of 4/20 are questionable, with some saying the number 420 refers to the California penal code for weed. This has been confirmed to be false according to CNN, and it is said that the holiday originated in 1971 in San Rafael, Calif., when Waldo Steve and his friends were given a map to plant a cannabis plant from a friend’s brother in the Coast Guard. At approximately 4:20 p.m., they met at their school’s Louis Pasteur statue and got high. From there, they set out to find the location to plant the cannabis given to them.
When it comes to the mainstream rise of 4/20, credits go to Steven Bloom of High Times. In 1990, while attending a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, Bloom heard the phrase “420” from a fan of the band and was given a flyer of its history. Once the story was published in High Times, the phrase went global.
While the holiday is unofficial and weed is illegal under federal law, many states have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. The first two states to do so were Washington and Colorado in 2012, and 13 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use since. While Connecticut and most other states (with the exception of Nebraska and Idaho) have only legalized weed for medicinal purposes, there are varying degrees to which cannabis is legal.
In New York for example, weed is currently decriminalized. But earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the legalization of recreational use of weed, which is expected to go into effect next year.
Meanwhile in neighboring Pennsylvania, weed has not been decriminalized. While Gov. Tom Wolf has stated his support for recreational legalization, it is unlikely to happen given that the Republicans control the state legislature. However, it is worth noting that New Jersey has legalized recreational weed.
In Connecticut, a state that has decriminalized cannabis, arrests for pot possession in the state went down by 75% between 2010 and 2018. The state decriminalized weed in 2011.
It is unclear if 4/20 has directly inspired the push for legalization of cannabis in the United States. What is clear however, is that in the years since the formation of 4/20, there has been a discussion around the disparity of who gets prosecuted for pot.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are over three times more likely than White Americans to be arrested for pot possession, despite both groups using pot at similar rates. In New York City, 94% of people who were arrested for cannabis charges in 2020 were people of color.
Pot is currently a Schedule 1 drug under Drug Enforcement Administration guidelines, the strictest of guidelines for drug enforcement. In that same category, drugs such as LSD and heroin are listed.
For those who plan to celebrate 4/20, make sure you stay safe, know what your state’s law is for pot possession and contact your elected officials about expanding cannabis rights in your state, along with asking to expunge the criminal records of non-violent offenders.