Why You Smoke On 420
To make a bad but obvious joke, it’s difficult to chronicle significant events in marijuana history because, simply put, nobody can really remember them. The legend of 420 is much the same. For the uninitiated, 420 is a popular term (maybe the most popular term) among marijuana users worldwide. So — what is it? Why you smoke on 420?
It’s right around the corner, first of all. April 20th (or 4/20) is the smoker’s holiday — marijuana users from all over the world light up at the same time to celebrate the herb. Some users take it a step further, using in public to demonstrate against anti-marijuana policies. Obviously, this isn’t a federally recognized holiday. It is, however, a staple of pot culture everywhere and a cultural phenomenon. Users often smoke on that day, and at 4:20 on normal days, too. Your average smoker may not know how or why the whole world syncs up at 4:20. Like any origin story, there’s more confusion than there are facts.
Before shedding light on the actual genesis of everyone’s favorite holiday, it’s worth taking a look at some of the myths and tall tales about 420 that don’t quite hold up to a fact check.
The first of the legends?
Radio Code 420…
… Only applies in some police precincts, and nowhere does it apply to marijuana use or possession.
Penal Code 420…
… Has to do with zoning ordinances and obstructing entrances to and from public land. Marijuana users often mistakenly claim that California has a penal code 420 that applies to people caught smoking.
Unless you have so much pot that you obstruct the sidewalk when you travel, penal code 420 will never apply to your smoking life.
Bob Dylan’s Influence…
… Was vast, but doesn’t appear to have played any role in the creation of 420. Some believe that Bob Dylan’s song, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” was responsible for the 420 phenomenon. This is based on the fact that 12 x 35 is 420, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Dylan himself has never boasted about creating the term.
With those out of the way, it’s time to look at the most widely-accepted actual origin of the smoker’s holiday — it started in California, about fifty years ago.
Five high schoolers from San Rafael High School needed a secret code to keep their smoking plans secret from the unassuming. The group, who called themselves the “Waldos,” met at 4:20pm many days to smoke together. They were out of school by that time, but still as of yet unsupervised.
420 became the group’s code, and the phenomenon spread from there. How, we still don’t know, but many estimate that Grateful Dead fans played a role — they’re also associated with Marin County, California (where San Rafael is located).
Why You Smoke on 420 ~ In Traffic & Transit
When people argue that marijuana is less detrimental to road safety than something like alcohol is, they’re pretty much correct. Alcohol consumption and motor vehicle accidents are an all-too-common marriage in our country.
It’s also common for marijuana proponents to argue that the legalization of weed (or indeed, the smoking of it in general) has no ill effects on road safety whatsoever. We’d be remiss if we didn’t admit that this were actually false, especially on 4/20.
Using almost three decades of U.S. national public data, numerous studies have found anywhere between a 10 or 15% increase in the risk of having a fatal motor accident after 4:20 on April 20th. Among people under the age of 21, the risk was higher — as much as 38% higher.
So, it probably wouldn’t take too much convincing on our part to have you spend this 4/20 indoors. Now, you have a concrete reason to smoke at home.
There’s more — signs with the number 420 on them are some of the most oft-stolen items from traffic or construction sites. To combat the seemingly imminent theft of any signage bearing the famous number, the Colorado Department of Transportation replaced their applicable mile marker signs, which now bear the number 419.99.
Other states have followed suit, replacing 420 signs of all types with alternatives.
Across the World
What have you heard about the origins of 420? What are your celebration plans? Let us know!