April 20th, one of the best days of the year where all cannabis users, from the daily users to the “I-smoke-every-once-in-a-while’s”, come together to appreciate and celebrate one of nature’s greatest gifts. Aside from smoking a crazy amount of weed, or eating some extravagant edible, there is a lot more to appreciate about 4/20. Stepping back and considering how 4/20 has changed over the years, we can see how it is a microcosm of the progress made by the cannabis movement since the War on Drugs.
The origin of 4/20 shows us what it was like to be a cannabis user at a time when politicians and the general public viewed cannabis as a serious threat to American society. The connection between 420 and weed dates back to the early 70’s at a southern California high school (surprise, surprise). Contrary to popular belief, it didn't originate as a date but rather as a time. A group of students who referred to themselves as “the Waldos” would meet at a 4:20pm every day on their school campus to light up. Everything about it was secret and hidden because they had no other choice. The name “the Waldos” comes from their usual smoke spot - behind a wall on their campus - to keep themselves hidden from prying eyes. They chose the time 4:20pm because that is when all school activities were done for the day, and no one would be around to see or smell them. They used the term 420 as a secret code word, passing each other in the hallways and muttering “420” to let the rest of the group know they would be joining in on the sesh later. The story of 4/20’s origin gives us a glimpse of how ignorance and misunderstanding impacted people just trying to relax and get high.
But how did 420 go from a small southern California high school to an internationally recognized holiday? Well the story of the Waldos goes beyond the high school days. Legend has it that a member of the Waldos got a job as a roadie for one of the pioneers of the counterculture movement that flourished through the 70’s; the Grateful Dead. The band, through their music, popularity and social influence, popularized 420 to their following. By the time the 90's rolled around, the term was quite popular with these fans - known as Deadheads - some even went to the length of passing out flyers to invite others to join in on 420 celebrations. One of these flyers wound up in the hands of a writer for HighTimes magazine, who later published the flyer, and began to adopt the phrase for their own content. From that point on, the term 420 became a known throughout the cannabis community.
This part of the 420 story represents the cannabis community stepping out of the shadows and fighting for something they believe in. The counterculture movement spearheaded by bands like the Grateful Dead and amplified by fans like their Deadheads, started a conversation about cannabis in society that had never been spoken about. In the days of Reefer Madness and the War on Drugs, people didn't question what they were told and generally accepted the anti-drug propaganda they were fed. This counterculture movement brought an end to the blind ignorance and silence and began a real movement to legitimize cannabis.
Let’s fast-forward almost 30 years: we are still fighting, but the progress has been unprecedented. Now 4/20 is celebrated with festivals, celeb sponsored events, special deals at dispensaries, or simply a cannabis community get together in solidarity for the love of pot. No more hiding, no more code words, no more waiting until nobody is around to see -- instead, just good, stress free celebration and appreciation for the best plant in the world. 420 itself didn't shift the culture in this direction, it was the support, belief and passion of the whole community that got us here. 420 and what it has become, does however, represent the progress we have made to get to this point. So while you’re smoking the 6-gram joint you rolled up, or the $300 "cannagar" that you bought for the special occasion, remember the Waldos and their whole generation of cannabis lovers who had to hide in the shadows so that we can smoke in the streets.