Four-twenty—or if you prefer, 420—is much more than a number, to hundreds of thousands of North Americans it’s a celebration of a lifestyle. Four-twenty became code for smoking marijuana or toking up in the mid 1980s. To this day countless people light up, vaporize, rip the bong, dab and more at 4:20pm. Others wish friends and strangers alike a happy 4:20 as the clock marks this iconic time.
The origins of the phrase are still sometimes disputed but the story told most, with the most support, stems from a San Rafael high school (I said ‘stems’ and ‘high’…stoners, eh?) where ‘The Waldos’ got together at 4:20 after school activities to smoke (and search for) weed. The term ‘let’s meet at 4:20’ was code for ‘let’s meet at 4:20 and get high’ and was picked up by San Rafaeli deadheads. Eventually, no matter what time it was, saying ‘it’s 4:20’ was followed by the sound of Bic lighters clicking and then, usually, the sound of coughing.
Another popular story banded around online is that at one time the California highway patrol used the code 420 for someone smoking marijuana. Today, though, the CHP use 420 for a property misdemeanour. There are no available records showing 420 was used before as a cannabis-related criminal code.
One thing is certain, when you light up at 4:20 you can be sure others in your time zone are also doing just that. It’s very much a showing of strength in the community and helps bring us together in solidarity with a common activity at the same time.
420 has become an integral part of cannabis culture. It’s on shirts, hats, jackets, pins, etc. I’ve seen many 420 tattoos and have one myself. Theft of mile marker 420 is common; Colorado recently replaced theirs with marker 419.99. In most Canadian provinces you can order custom licence plates for your vehicle but not 420—the secret’s out.
April 20th, 4/20 by the USA calendar system, is like New Year’s Eve for the pot community across Canada and the United States. It’s even occasionally observed in other parts of the pot-smoking world.
In Vancouver, BC, it’s been wide-open sales of marijuana and cannabis products on 4/20 since 2006. We now close a major downtown street and take over the Vancouver Art Gallery grounds for the day. Pop-up tents dot the area, offering not just smoking-related goods like glass pipes, rolling papers, bongs, grinders and filter papers, but also jewellery, a rest tent, first aid, and drinks. Many more people wander about selling everything from joints to baked goods, hash, and dabs. Some set up hot-boxing tents while others offer tokes from exotic pipes and bongs.
Two stages are set up: the main stage is for speakers and headline acts while the second stage is more for local talent to jam on, or so it’s been in past years. At 4:15 organizers have a ‘joint toss’ where upwards of a pound of marijuana, hand rolled into hundreds of joints by volunteers weeks before, are tossed out to the crowd closest to the stage. At 4:20 the crowd counts down the last 10 seconds and then lights up together.
If you’ve never seen 15,000 people light up simultaneously take in the next Vancouver 4/20 and you will.
Overall, 4/20 is a day of celebration and reflecting, to remember those lost in the drug war and to honour the ones that give so much and continue to do so. It’s a protest and a party at the same time. It’s a day to honour our culture, the leaf and the people who love it.
Four-Twenty—our day, our time—honour it by puffing loud and proud.