The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Every year April 20 stands as hemp’s high holiday

In cannabis culture, 420 means many things. It is a time, a date, a holiday and marijuana itself.

“When I go to a college and ask, ‘What does 420 mean? Raise your hand if you know what it means,’ every hand in the room goes up,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law, in a phone interview with The Guilfordian.

Despite how recognizable this number has become in Western culture, few people understand its origins.

“My knowledge of the historical background of 420 is limited to folklore and yearly fantastical additions from friends while sitting around a Ouija board pretending that it’s working,” said a Guilford student who wished to remain anonymous.

“When you say 420, you mean there is the perceived notion that everybody’s supposed to smoke weed at 4:20 in the afternoon, right?” said Public Safety Director Ron Stowe.

Numerous theories abounded for years. Suggestions include the amount of active chemicals in marijuana (there are actually 483), Dutch tea time, a police code for marijuana smoking in progress, or that Bob Dylan came up with the phrase. Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” sparked the latter theory. “Rainy day women” was slang for marijuana cigarettes, 12 and 35 multiplied equals 420, and in the song, Dylan sings over and over about getting stoned.

The truth is less deliberate than any theory but just as interesting.

In the fall of 1971, a few San Francisco Bay teenagers nicknamed The Waldos heard rumors of an abandoned field of marijuana. They arranged to meet at a statue of Louis Pasteur at their high school. The time they agreed to was 4:20 p.m.

The meeting time became code among the friends, and as fate would have it, one of the Waldos later managed bands for Phil Lesh, bassist for The Grateful Dead. Through osmosis, the term spread through the Deadhead community and the country.

This particular April 20 enjoyed a historic reputation, following the complete legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.

“Those in Colorado and Seattle who will come out in favor of reform do so knowing that the marijuana in their pocket is no longer illegal,” St. Pierre said. “The police and government have no reason necessarily to treat them like a criminal or an adversary, when in fact, these people are just peaceful taxpayers who support law enforcement’s efforts to keep society safe.

“Outside of public use of marijuana, which is not allowed in either state (though I suspect there will surely be lots of it), it will be incredibly celebratory.”

Though this April 20 was a red-letter day, memories of 4/20s past survive the purple haze.

“My first ever 4/20, my mom caught my best friend and I trying to sneak out of the neighborhood,” said the anonymous student. “It was actually the first time I had ever smoked, and what I can remember, other than her physically piercing glare before allowing us to retreat shamefully to the basement for bed, was hallucinating that my friend was singing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ to me in Spanish. I also thought that my pillow was trying to eat my face. Thus, a lifelong friendship with marijuana was forged.”

To others, April 20 is no big deal.

“As far as (Public Safety is) concerned, it is another day,” said Stowe. “We certainly do not recognize it as a holiday.”

No matter what, 420 has entered the cultural milieu.

“(On April 20), Comedy Central and Spike TV and G4, just to name three brands, will have 420 programming and make all kinds of references that are positive — not negative, not damning — about cannabis and cannabis users,” said St. Pierre. “Major, multi-million dollar corporations mock the prohibition and make money off of it.”

Perhaps the recognition and acceptance of 420 in mainstream culture bodes well for marijuana legalization. For the time being, 420 remains an open secret, and now you know the legend behind the code.

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