by Ryan Scribner

National Weed Day, more commonly known as 420, has become an international counterculture holiday where people celebrate by consuming marijuana. But in America, the line between civil disobedience and mainstream sanctioned culture has been blurred to the point that the line is almost indistinguishable. No origin story explains the practice of this holiday but that makes sense. All over the world, people smoke weed for recreation, health or religious purposes. But one aspect that has helped spread the culture of 420 pertains to the ritualization of numbers.

The Origin

In 1971, a group of students who attended San Rafael High School in California who called themselves the Waldos designated a Louis Pasteur statue on the school grounds as their meeting place for smoke sessions, and 4:20 pm, the time designated for the meetup. The meetup time eventually became a code that the Waldos used to discuss their afternoon smoking plans. The popular appeal of 420 occurred when one of the Waldos, Dave Reddix, became a roadie for The Grateful Dead and participated in flyer distribution asking for show attendees to toke up at 4:20 pm. Steve Bloom from the magazine High Times, got a hold of the flyer and published it, which lead to the widespread concept of 420.

But to many people, the origin of the culture of 420 doesn’t add up with the Waldos’ story. Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” arrives at that total exactly. In the noted song, Dylan sings “Everybody must get stoned,” which when combined with the reality that 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420, a compelling argument against the high school origin story is established; especially, since this song is on an album released in 1966.

An even older potential origin exists in the H.P. Lovecraft literary canon. A 1939 short story titled “In the Walls of Eryx” by Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling, mentions “curious mirage-plants,” with effects upon the characters similar to the psychoactive effects of marijuana. In the story, the narrator even stops experiencing the chemical effects of the “mirage-plants” at 4:20.

Whether the culture of 420 emerged from a group of clever high school students, a musician or a fiction writer, beyond the unifying dimension of the ritualization of numbers exists another important dimension of this holiday: that dimension is creativity. It is seen of course in music and stories (the Grateful Dead, Dylan, and Lovecraft are a few examples) and arts and crafts in general, codes and insider culture information (420 being used to covertly plan a meeting), organizing events, and protests or meetups/events in general. Brett Stern in 99 Ways To Make A Pipe continues to honor the creative tradition of 420. As noted in the book title, he presents 99 problem-solving solutions for smokers who are in need of a pipe and don’t have one.

All across the country, 420 events are held each year and each has something unique to offer. Ritual acknowledgment and creativity are found in abundance on 420. And whether you're chilling with friends or relaxing by yourself, creative experimentation separates this holiday from all others. The use of psychotropics for many people is one of the earliest forms of experimenting with who we are. 420 encourages people to look at circumstances from a different perspective. For the events across the U.S., one of Stern’s 99 pipes is being used to maximize the enjoyment and ensure that no one misses out on enjoying their sweet leaf on 420.
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