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Mythbusting 420: The unofficial cannabis holiday

Mythbusting 420: The unofficial cannabis holiday

Think of the typical holidays you look forward to in your calendar every year (depending on where you are in the world): Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, Easter, National Independence Day, Thanksgiving. Well, there is another one that can be added to this list for cannabis enthusiasts, both smokers and non-smokers, who recognize April 20 or 4/20 as the national holiday for cannabis culture.

happy 420

Few actually know how this date got chosen, and the conspiracy theories on 420 have blown the roof off. I’ve heard theories from people saying “420” is code among police officers for “marijuana smoking in progress.” Some even suggest that it is related to Adolf Hitler’s birthday, which was on the 20th of April. Some go as far as to cite Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” because 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420.

According to the BBC News, the most credible story traces the origins of the 4/20 celebrations in the escapades of a group of friends from San Rafael high school, northern California, in 1971. That autumn, the five teenagers came into possession of a hand-drawn map supposedly locating a marijuana crop at Point Reyes, north-west of San Francisco. They called themselves the Waldos, apparently because they used to hang out by a wall. They met after school, at 4:20pm, and drove off looking for the marijuana crop, which they never found. "We were smoking a lot of weed at the time," Dave Reddix told the BBC."Half the fun was just going looking for it." The group began using the term 420. So did friends and acquaintances, who included - at a couple of steps removed - members of the Grateful Dead rock band. The term spread among the band's fans, known as Deadheads.

Back In the 90s, High Times, an authority on cannabis culture, explained 4/20 on a Grateful Dead concert flyer. The magazine staff also started using it - they held brainstorm meetings at 4.20pm - pot-fuelled, of course. The magazine printed the flyer in 1991 and continued to reference the number. Soon, it became known worldwide as code for marijuana. In 1998, the outlet acknowledged that the “Waldos” were the “inventors” of 420. Twenty years later another publication, 420 Magazine, reported a claim by a rival group of San Rafael old boys that they had invented the term. But the Waldos, who have shown letters and other items to High Times, vigorously defend their version. "We're the only ones with evidence," says Steve Capper, or Waldo Steve.

Now, in 2021, April 20 has become an international counterculture holiday, where people gather to celebrate and consume cannabis. Many such events have a political nature to them, advocating the liberalisation / legalisation of cannabis. Vivian McPeak, a founder of Seattle's Hempfest states that 4/20 is "half celebration and half call to action". Paul Birch calls it a global movement and suggests that one cannot stop events like these.

It’s not only in the United States, but you will also find loads of public parks in Britain, such as Hyde Park in London, Hyde park in Leeds and The Meadows in Edinburgh absolutely packed with people celebrating by consuming cannabis on the 20th of April. The same can be said for the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and many more European countries that have strong Cannabis communities.

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