This year, when many are out celebrating Easter, Oestre, Pascha or Ishtar, others will set their minds on a greener holiday. This year, everyone’s favorite day to recognize rebirth, fertility, and the renewal of spring coincides with a major holiday for marijuana smokers in the United States, if not the world. April 20, otherwise known as 4/20 is a day on which the daily toke taken at 4:20 p.m. (or a.m.) can extend all day long. It’s math. Or, it’s at least a numerical coincidence. No matter the facts, this Easter it would be wise to hide all the treats extra well, as stoners with sweet teeth will be on the lookout. Yes, they eat the ears first and they leave nothing behind. It can get messy.
This begs a question: What is the origin and significance of 420 for cannabis aficionados?
There are no easy answers to this question. Answers include: a police code for smoking in progress, California penal code for violating marijuana law, Seattle advertising executives taking a puff break, and the number of chemical compounds in cannabis. Each of these is wrong.
There is no police code 420, so that one can be ruled out automatically. It is interesting that stoners would conjure the spectre of a police intervention while pufffing away, but then people do enjoy a good scare from time to time. Perhaps this myth arose when someone attempted to scare a newbie during their initial cannabinoid rituals.
California penal code 420 refers to obstructing entry on public land. While unlikely, it’s possible that a van full of stoners broke down in the middle of the road into Joshua Tree State Park and everyone was too stoned to realize that they were being busted for blocking the road rather than for smoking their favorite herb, marijuana.
One plausible-sounding myth has it that a prominent advertising executive in Seattle used to take a smoke break every day at 4:20. He would invite his favorite co-workers to join him. So, a small cadre of puffing copywriters, media specialists, and graphic designers formed the first cabal of smokers to christen this holy time of day. However, there are so many similar stories that this particular one loses its hold on the imagination as quickly as a pinner in a windstorm.
As for the chemical explanation, this one holds promise. Not only does it come wrapped in the veneer of science, but it just seems so dang right. The daily event and yearly holiday are all about the chemicals which change consciousness, so why not honor them in this way? However, like many chronic puffers, this one is about an hour and five minutes too late. There are only 315 chemical compounds in Cannabis sativa. Better luck next time, wannabe chemists.
There is one explanation, however, which holds a special claim as the quintessential explanation for the use of the term, time, and even day 4:20. The story arises from a story, a creepy story from one of literature’s creepiest authors. H.P. Lovecraft’s tale, The Walls of Eryx, contains a passage with so many characteristics befitting the holiday: hallucinogenic imagery, confusion, a mystical plant, time-dilation, and the ultimate qualifier – the time of day. Lovecraft’s character experiences a great confusion. Lovecraft writes, “it seemed hours before I was free of the mirage-plant’s pervasive influence.” He experiences a dilation of time were seconds seem like hours, yet when he comes to, it is only 4:20.
Marijuana has been with humans for millennia and there are many myths a speculations as to how humans came to use the plant. No matter the true origins, this 4/20 holiday it is advised to obey local laws, stay safe, and to continue eating the ears first. They are the best part, after all.
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