Happy 4/20!

On some holidays, you get the day off to do things like dying eggs with your family, or leaving a glass out for an expected prophet. On others, you have to “call in sick” to work so you can participate in your cherished holiday ritual. Today, April 20th (4/20 if you’re into brevity), is one of those “call in sick” days for those who delight in the burning of a certain funky flower.

In case the internet hasn’t told you yet today, 4/20 is the high holy day for marijuana enthusiasts in North America, as well as points further east and west. While 4/20 celebrations have become something close to commonplace in the last ten years, thanks in part to stunning and still growing levels of acceptance across the country, it’s important to understand how this three-number sequence came to represent a lifestyle. There are a number of bogus, sinister connections related to 4/20 that have only fed in to the hysteria and vilification that follow this little plant. Lets take a second to dispel some rumors, and get down to the where and why of 4/20.

First, let’s clear the table of any mis-information, all of which has been extensively debunked. “420 is police code for marijuana smoking in progress.” Nope. “There are 420 chemical compounds found in cannabis.” Nuh-uh. “Something something something Hitler’s birthday.” Yes, but also very much no (he was into much harder stuff). “If you multiply the numbers in Bob Dylan’s ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ you get 420.” Sure, you can have that one.

The real origins lie in the hearts and minds of some conspiracy chasing kids looking for hidden treasure in California circa 1971. The story goes that three fellas who called themselves the Waldos were chasing after a marijuana plot in the Point Reyes forest left behind by a Coast Guard officer. They would meet in front of a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 PM, enjoy a bit of the devil’s lettuce, then head off in search of the verdant field. The time eventually became their encoded call to imbibe and search. The expeditions yielded no findings, but the code name for their operation reached the ears of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, who introduced the term to Billy, Bobby, Jerry, Mickey, and ‘Pen, who kept the moniker alive.

Phil Lesh, courtesy of David Gans

Years later, while enjoying the scene on the lot at a Dead show in 1990, High Times reporter Steve Bloom was handed a flyer advertising a get together of like-minded individuals to happen on 4/20 at 4:20 PM. The flyer was eventually published in the magazine, and pot supporters latched on to and proliferated 420 until it became synonymous with the plant.

High Times via HuffPo

Those numbers are likely to be forever connected to marijuana, and if saying  “420” is more palatable than “pot” or “chronic,” so be it. Lately, Denver has become the epicenter of 4/20 observance, but celebrations can be found across the country. If celebrating amongst the masses isn’t for you, you can check out a one-day-only re-screening of the Grateful Dead movie, or keep with the Dead theme and re-visit a classic show from this date in Dead history (long live Brent-era Dead!).

If and how you choose to celebrate is up to you. If you do join the festivities, stay safe, remember to share, and always be kind.

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