What's this 420 business?
Celebrated by cannabis enthusiasts and activists around the world, April 20, also known as 420, is the unofficial national cannabis holiday. On this day, in cities across the globe, people gather to pay homage to the many qualities of this exceptionally useful plant.
HOW DID 420 COME ABOUT ?
There have been all kinds of speculations, from the reasonable to the ridiculous, when it comes to the origin story of 420. Some say 420 was a code used by police officers to signal ‘marijuana smoking in progress’. Others say it comes from a Bob Dylan song. But the most credible origin story of the 420 cultural phenomenon comes from the Bay Area in California. In 1971, five high school students known as “The Waldos” began meeting up everyday at 4:20pm by the Louis Pasteur statue on campus to smoke cannabis. The group would eventually come to use ‘420’ as their code word for cannabis and so the legend of 420 was born.
Fast-forward to 1990, Steve Bloom, former reporter for High Times Magazine, is handed a flyer by some Deadheads inviting everyone to smoke “420” on April 20 at 4.20pm. Bloom would go on to publish this flyer in the High Times magazine, which would serve as one of the first known documentations of 420 as we know it today.
420 IN NORTH AMERICA
North America has undeniably had a big influence in shaping cannabis culture. From the humour of Cheech and Chong to the activism of Browny Mary and Jack Herer, not to mention pop culture icons like Snoop Dogg, Carl Sagan, Joe Rogan, to name a few. They all come from the same part of the world.
In the past decade, it has been the governing and the legislative side of cannabis in North America that has been the most fascinating to watch. The shift towards legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis has seen the 420 movement go from a counterculture holiday to a mainstream commercial event.
In 2019, we were lucky enough to see Legendary Hip Hop group Cypress Hill live at the Sunset Park 420 event in Vancouver, Canada. Slated to play for mere 60,000 people, more than 150,000 people attended the event that day. That’s bigger than your average footy grand final crowd.
420 IN AUSTRALIA
Australia has one of the highest cannabis prevalence rates in the world according to the World Drug Report. Only North America has higher prevalence rates. And this despite, the vastly different cannabis landscape. It's little wonder more Australians now support the legalisation of cannabis than those that oppose it.
While Australia has made small progress by legalising medicinal cannabis in 2016, the Australian cannabis market is still far behind the rest. The number of medical cannabis patients are on the rise as the current framework struggles to cope with issues of rising demands, short supply and high prices.
The global pandemic has of course dampened the 420 celebrations around the world including in Australia (although to be fair, in comparison there's no better place to be). Prior to 2020, in cities across Australia, 420 was celebrated by activists and enthusiasts alike. Even politicians such as Adam Bandt and Fiona Patten have come to 420 events to show their support for much-needed cannabis reform.
And there's more than one way to stage a spotlight on 420. In 2020 Cannabis activist group Who Are We Hurting made headlines when they attempted to deliver a pound of weed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s residence at the Kirribilli house as a peace offering.
420 FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
While smoking up at 420 is a light hearted, fun way of celebrating your love for cannabis, spreading awareness in a multitude of formats can serve a greater purpose. The annual event has been used as a conduit for cannabis reform and to shine a light on the many beneficial aspects of cannabis as both a therapeutic and medicinal substance. Ben & Jerry’s is just one of many examples of corporations getting involved in the cannabis conversation. In 2019, they collaborated with a cannabis retailer to give away free ice cream with the purchase of cannabis and in 2020 they promoted cannabis reform by supporting an act that would expunge all existing cannabis convictions.
Social reform need not only be relegated to North America. Here in Australia, according to data released by NSW Bureau of Crime, Statistics and Research, between 2013-2017, NSW police disproportionately pursued more than 80% of indigenous people found with small amounts of cannabis through the courts, compared to only 52.29% of the non-indigenous population.
With the pandemic still around, it's hard to know when the next big gathering for 420 will be, but for the time being, the cannabis juggernaut doesn't appear to be slowing down. New York just became the first US state to legalise cannabis in 2021 and CBD has just been legalised for over the counter sale in Australia.
The future looks green.