420 in 2020
Karen Berger, PharmD, Medical Writer
April 20, or 4/20 (420), is known as “Weed Day.” What is the meaning behind this? There have been many rumors about the origin of 420, which include California criminal codes, police radio codes, and a very strange rumor about a Bob Dylan song. Chris Conrad, curator of the Oaksterdam Cannabis Museum in Oakland, California, set the record straight. Conrad explained that 420 was a secret code for high school students in the early 1970’s. A group of students at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California, called themselves “the Waldos,” and met at 4:20 p.m. every day after school to get high. These students, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich, called themselves the Waldos simply because they met at a wall, next to a statue of Louis Pasteur. This was the time that school was over, but their parents were not yet home, so the students met every day at that time to enjoy freedom and cannabis. The students started to say 420 as a code they could use in front of their parents, and the code spread across the state of California and then everywhere else.
How did the code 420 spread? It’s an interesting story. Dave Reddix worked with the Grateful Dead as a roadie. In December 1990, a group of Deadheads in Oakland distributed flyers inviting people to smoke “420” on April 20 at 4:20 pm.
Steve Bloom, at the time, was a reporter for High Times magazine, and the magazine printed the flyer in 1990. Soon, 420 became known as the code for marijuana. High Times, in 1998, acknowledged that the “Waldos” indeed were the inventors of the term 420. Bloom wrote about the story in 2013 on a celebstoner.com blog (you can see the original flyer here). He said, “the authors of the marijuana missive had a bigger mission in mind: they wanted people all over the world to get together on one day each year and collectively smoke pot at the same time. They birthed the idea of a stoner holiday, which April 20 has become.”
In 2020, though, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. So how could people get together to celebrate 420? Maybe virtually over FaceTime, Zoom, or an Instagram Live session, or maybe outside with your best friend (standing far apart)? Many celebrations did happen virtually. For example, cannabis influencer Koala Puffs, who has 700,000 Instagram followers, hosted an Instagram Live smoke session to celebrate the day, as well as her acting debut in the movie 4/20.
Not all festivities happened virtually, though. In New York City, police broke up a 420 party – not because of the marijuana, but because of lack of social distancing. NYPD officers were called to the party after receiving a tip. They found people gathered together on the third floor of an empty building on West 23rd Street, around, you guessed it, 4:20 pm, smoking cannabis, and not staying at least 6 feet away from one another.
Other police departments, such as the one in Bath Township, Michigan, which is known for its humor, took to Facebook to remind celebrators of social distance. Their entertaining post is pictured on the right.
Another fun fact: On 4/20, at 8:20 pm, in military time, it was 20:20 2020 – that’s four 20’s on 4/20! A once in history event!
How did you celebrate 420 in 2020?
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