This Monday, April 20th, marijuana enthusiasts around the globe will collectively burn in celebration of the day that has become unofficially recognized the world over as the most important date on the pot smoker's calendar. And though most people think of April 20th as special because of this attributed holiday status, it isn't really the day that's important, it's the numbers making up the date: 420.
The number 420 has been associated with the marijuana subculture for years and doesn't just refer to the twentieth day or April, but is used as a general term for all aspects of marijuana usage. But what significance does the number 420 hold? Where did it come from and why is it so important to the marijuana subculture?
There are many different myths about where the term 420 actually originated. Among all the legends and superstitions and incorrect claims ( e.g. "420" is police code for marijuana" ), no one can say with 100% certainty where the term came from. The likeliest source, however, is from a bunch of teenage smokers in the 1970s. The story goes that several Californian high school boys would get together every day at 4:20 PM-because that's when their detention would let out - and smoke together. They referred to smoking pot by using the time they met each day and would even write it on and carve it into various places for fun. Years later, some of the boys were surprised when they noticed that 420 was being used as a prevalent term in the marijuana subculture.
This story is generally considered the most plausible and widely-accepted of all the theories concerning the source of 420. But whatever its origins, 420 has grown to symbolize not only the act of smoking marijuana, but the entire marijuana subculture as a whole. The fact that a term used by a few guys nearly 40 years ago in California ( if that is the true origin of the term ) can be passed around ( no pun intended ) by pot smokers until it becomes internationally recognized as a symbol of an entire subculture is in and of itself a testament to the strong communal connectivity of that counterculture. But this isn't really an unusual phenomenon for subcultures that involve illicit activities. Subcultures based around an illegal activity have to be secretive by nature. Often specialized vocabulary must be used and established rules of etiquette must be observed, not just out of practice, but to keep those involved from getting in trouble with the law.
But marijuana users didn't always have to be considered an illicit subculture. In fact, marijuana as an illegal substance didn't come about until relatively recently in the several millennia-long history of cannabis's status as an essential, multi-use plant. Around 8000 years ago, the seeds of the cannabis plant were used for food in China. Over the course of another few thousand years, it became utilized in clothing and textiles as hemp and was developed into medicines for a variety of ailments. Five centuries before the Christian era, cannabis was introduced to Europe and it spread throughout the continent. It wasn't until the era of the Great Depression in the U.S. that marijuana use was viewed as negative.
When the Great Depression hit in the early part of the 20th century, marijuana was a popular recreational drug amongst the Mexican immigrant workers of the American southwest. When times got tough, people began to panic under the stress of losing their jobs. Needing to focus their anger and frustration, the white Americans of the time set their sights on immigrant workers and, in what can only be described as an act of pure racism, eventually outlawed the use of marijuana, essentially outlawing a specific aspect of a specific culture's way of life. A very similar situation had already occurred in the United States with the opium that was important to some Asian cultures at the time ( though, admittedly, opium is in a whole different ballpark than marijuana when it comes to addiction, side effects, etc. ). In the time since, many doctors and drug professionals have come forward with evidence that marijuana should be reclassified from a narcotic for its medicina! l properties. Though recent attitudes toward marijuana have begun to relax somewhat-especially in the case of medicinal marijuana-it still remains a federal offense to possess the parts of the plant that contain THC ( a.k.a. the part that gets you high ).
So that's the long and short of it. Cannabis has been a useful crop for millennia. Pot became illegal less than a hundred years ago thanks to some rather shady motivation. Some kids in the 70s had to wait until detention was over to burn everyday. And that's why you can buy t-shirts with "420" on them and G4 dedicates an entire day of programming to all things stoner related. Now, before you think we here at UWeekly are all just gaga for ganja, take note that this article in no way advocates for the use of marijuana or suggests that you in any way break the law this upcoming Monday. We just wanted to take a closer look at all the hype surrounding a simple little number.
Author: Bram Fulk
Pubdate: Wed, 15 Apr 2009
Source: U Weekly (Ohio State U, Columbus, OH, Edu)