April 20th, in 1972 the Apollo 16, manned by John Young, landed on the moon, in 1999 the Columbine High School massacre, and in 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded. All of these events are very notable in our history, but not as notable as the date itself, 4-20, which is well known amongst the general public and marijuana users worldwide as a day to celebrate and smoke weed.
During my years in high school the common explanation for the origins of 4-20 were the birth/death of Bob Marley; of course with a quick Google search one can find that this explanation is incorrect, as Bob Marley was born in February 1945 and died May 11 1981. Another explanation around the web was Adolf Hitler’s birthday, which is actually on April 20, 1889, but unfortunately neither of these origins adequately explains the origins of 4-20 as a day to smoke weed. However in the haze of smoke there is a story from California in the early ‘70s that does shed some light on the origins of 4-20.
In San Rafael, California, a group of San Rafael High School friends came upon the holy grail of stoners; one of the friends in the group found information from his brother in law regarding a Coast Guard service member who was unable to maintain his marijuana field. So with a map and a ’66 Chevy Impala at hand, the group of friends decided to meet at 4:20pm, after a sports practice, and search for the field. Of course the friends admitted to smoking pot before and during the search for the field, which is the most likely reason for their inability to find the marijuana.
However despite not finding the field, the friends did find a new code word, 4-20, and it was used throughout their time in high school to state that they were going to smoke pot. With the term only known amongst themselves, parents, teachers and fellow students never knew what they were referring too, and so were able to get away with talking about it openly and being able to keep their activities on the down low.
Ask anyone on the street today what 4-20 is and they will sheepishly give you the answer. But HOW did this term become so widely known? We know in the ‘70s there was no predominant social media outlet for young adults, so how did it spread like wildfire? One theory from the San Rafael students, who are now in their mid fifties, is the band Grateful Dead. One of the student’s fathers took care of real estate for the band, and their brother also had a Grateful Dead sideband and was good friends with the Grateful Deads’ bassist, Phil Lesh. The group of friends could only assume that while socializing with the Grateful Dead at one point or another, one of them may have mentioned the term 4-20, which eventually made its way to the public domain. As the term was spread throughout the 70’s and 80’s as the Grateful Dead toured, a popular marijuana magazine, High Times, caught wind of the term and also helped in the spread of 4-20 through events hosted by the magazine.
Today the term is widely known, and many students in high schools and Universities honor the date by smoking up. Unfortunately, in Universities the events can be so large that schools try to discourage them, as it reflects poorly on their institution and the students who attend.
Most of these 4-20 events tend to promote the use of marijuana and to encourage the government and public to legalize it. However, the ideal way to approach marijuana use would be to decriminalize it instead of legalize it. The reason being that many countries in Europe have seen a trend where the legalization of both marijuana and any other illicit drug leads to further abuse of them and an increase in criminal activity. As well a recent article by the Associated Press describes how marijuana use by teenagers in the USA has increased to the point where 1 in 10 are smoking at least 20 or more times a month!
By decriminalizing marijuana the government is able to free space in prisons for more serious criminals and not use taxpayers money for the conviction of petty crimes from marijuana use. The government could set up rehabilitation programs and seminars that would help users get off the drug and increase their quality of life through job placements and volunteer work.
Although this solution does not legalize the use of marijuana, it helps to give them an alternative to using and an opportunity to change their lives, without treating them like they are criminals.
"Report: Frequent Marijuana Smoking up 80 Percent among Teens." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 02 May 2012. Web. 05 May 2012. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57426249-10391704/report-frequent-marijuana-smoking-up-80-percent-among-teens/>.
Schwartz, Carly, and Ryan Grim. "420: How 'Weed Day' Got Its Name." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/420-weed-day-marijuana-april-holiday_n_1437964.html>.
"Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization, Fact 9." United States Department of Justice. Web. 17 Mar. 2012. <http://www.justice.gov/dea/demand/speakout/09so.htm>.
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