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Origins Of 420: Does It Really Matter?

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By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town

As a veteran of stoner culture who can remember the years before mass media latched onto the 420 phenomenon in general, and specifically the celebration of April 20 (4/20) as America’s fastest-growing holiday and high celebration of all things cannabis, I have to admit I find the entire scenario a little strange.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled that marijuana gets a holiday of its own, and even more so that it then gets the coverage, as an issue, that it really deserves all 365 days a year. The consumption of cannabis in public places by large crowds of people carries some powerful symbolism and is a meaningful show of solidarity.

At the same time, I’m well aware that those who are inclined to dismiss the seriousness and validity of the marijuana movement are simply going to use April 20 to do exactly that — and then ignore it again for 364 more days.

Fomenting stoner stereotypes is, of course, easier than actually thinking about and wrestling with the real issues around marijuana’s illegality.

This type of lazy thinking — and lazy journalism — is much in evidence every year around this time.

Never mind those buzz-kills, though… Now that we’ve been passed a holiday (on the left hand side), let’s deep-lung a big hit of 420 culture and enjoy it.

The best revenge is, indeed, living well.

Origins Of 420

The most popular legend explaining the cannabis symbolism of 420 is that it started when a group of stoner teens at San Rafael High in California supposedly gathered at 4:20 p.m. every day to smoke pot next to a statue of Louis Pasteur.

“The Waldos,” as the story goes, supposedly have items of date-documented evidence, including some from the San Rafael Police Department, which they offer as provenance of the story. The practice then passed, we are told, from those high high school students into the Grateful Dead subculture, whence it spread throughout the land.

So where did these students come up with 4:20 as a time to get high? They may have been inspired, one theory goes, by an old H.P. Lovecraft story written in 1936, “In The Walls Of Eryx,” where a man exploring Venus encounters a “mirage-plant” and sees “shimmering spectral scenery.” Upon regaining his senses, the explorer looks at his watch and sees that it is 4:20.

If you don’t like these stories, there are supposedly more than 30 other explanations of 420 symbolism from which to pick, including esoterica like the fact that in Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” with its popular refrain “Everybody must get stoned,” 12 x 35 = 420.

In any event, the phenomenon had taken firm root and come to bloom by the early 1990s.

Ultimately, at this point, it hardly matters where the 420 phenomenon came from. If it means more public discussion — and consumption — of the sacramental herb, then that’s a good thing.

April 20 as 4/20 Day

The celebration of April 20 as 4/20 Day reportedly started in Vancouver, Brtisih Columbia in 1995. Employees at Marc Emery’s original hemp store, HEMP BC, led by two enterprising young ladies named Danna Rozek and Cindy Lassu, decided to hold a 4/20 celebration on April 20 next door to the store in Victory Park.

Two hundred people reportedly showed up for that first 4/20 Day, and the celebration grew to 500 the next year. The rapidly growing event was moved to the Vancouver Art Gallery for 1997, where more than a thousand people attended.

Wide media coverage ensued, and the April 20 unofficial holiday spread throughout North America and then the world.

Mass media, as it is inclined to do, is playing catch-up, and now has jumped into the 420 Day phenomenon with both feet. The media tend to run either earnest or sarcastic pieces about it every year. If you get asked a dumb marijuana question by a clueless journalist, be nice. Then if he or she wants to be mean in the article, it’s on them, not you.

Article From Toke of the Town and used with special permission.

(Ed. Note: This appeared last 420 but it was a great article.)

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