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Idiomatic phenomenon has organic roots

Leslie BrefeldVail, CO, Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY – Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, and Steven Hager, editor of High Times magazine, are willing to give interviews any time of the year. But it’s April 20 that the people want. The date, time and number, all encompassed in 4:20, have become increasingly meaningful over the last few decades to the stoner culture, and the culture at large.The connection between cannabis culture and 4:20 began with a group of California students in the ’70s who would meet at the time – which falls after school and before dinner – to smoke marijuana. The idea would then spread, on tour with the Grateful Dead so to speak, in the ’70s and ’80s.In the 1990s a fateful flyer endorsing the 4:20 celebration landed in the High Times magazine office, drawing the attention of 20-year editor Steve Hager. He picked up on the idiom, taking it from a cultural idea to an official pot holiday.”I jumped on it immediately,” Hager said in an interview Monday. “I liked it because what 4:20 meant to me, was to wait until 4:20. It’s a good time of day at 4:20 because you basically have all your stuff done … You’ve done all your faxing and filing, and it’s time to move to another gear – as opposed to a breakfast bong. It’s a more powerful tool if used respectfully and sparingly,” he said.

And through two major events Hager produced – the WHEE! (or World Hemp Expo Extravaganza) festival, which no longer exists but featured 300 hemp vendors in its first year, and the Cannabis Cup which is coming up on its 20th year in Amsterdam – he promoted and popularized the ritual.Of course, the message hasn’t reached everyone.”Depending on age and demographics – it could have meaning or none at all,” said NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) executive director Allen St. Pierre. But if you’re under the age of 40, it’s a part of the culture. St. Pierre cited Hollywood references like Quentin Tarantino setting the clock in the background to 4:20 when characters are smoking marijuana, to advertising campaigns launching on April 20, to bands singing about it – which all work to show the thoroughness of 4:20’s recognized meaning in our culture.In Las Vegas, the NORML chapter will host a 24-hour music festival on April 20, joining many other celebrations of the date, including other overt celebrations at universities, and private ones in homes. The High Times website will play a video of Hager being interviewed on ABC about the 4:20 term, and both the High Times and the NORML websites will see their peak day in visits for the year.”It certainly demonstrates the pervasiveness of marijuana use,” said Tom Rose, executive director of the Summit Prevention Alliance. He said the nonprofit organization, which works to help children make good decisions, combats drug use year-round and in so doing does not recognize the date with any special programs.

The same is true of Summit County law enforcement. According to Summit County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Paulette Horr, no particular operations are set up for the April 20 date, just the same “bust them when we find them” routine.For Hager, the symbolic number is more than just about the substance.”The meaning (of 4:20’s popularization) is that the ’60s counterculture was a spiritual revolution,” Hager said. “Rituals spontaneously erupt from cultures, and this is an example of a ritual spontaneously emerging from the counterculture … a culture of all people living together in harmony.”


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