Happy International Cannabis Day

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The story of how 420 became an international holiday

Cannabis use has been an integral part of many sub-cultures, which are outside the “mainstream” current cultures, but in the last decades there has been an increasing effort to integrate it into the “mainstream” society: and now, it even has its own holiday.

Nowadays, the 20th of April is known everywhere as the International Cannabis Day, also sometimes referred to as “stoner day”, “weed day”, among other common names.

The story of how 20th April became an international holiday to celebrate cannabis use is not exactly clear, as there are many different versions. However, all the different versions have one thing in common: the number 420 (which can also be read as 4/20, or 20th of April).

The most accepted version is that, in 1971, five high school American students from Marin County, California, had the habit of gathering by a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 pm every day to smoke marijuana. It is also said that, during the day, they would use the code “420 Louie” as an indicator of wanting to meet up for a smoke by the statue. Later, 4:20 also became known in some circles as the “international burn time”.

These high school students were later known as the “The Waldos” after Steve Waldo, one of the students from the group, publicly announced them as “the true originators, the founding fathers of 420”.

Waldo says all the members of the group were big fans of the American country/rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage. Among some circles, the band is said to be responsible for helping spread the message. Nonetheless, the biggest way of spreading this viral idea came later when the term “420” started to be known among members of the Deadhead community. That all started when one of the members of the “Waldos” group, Dave Reddix, worked as a roadie for The Grateful Dead band. Around 1990, it is said that Oakland Deadheads started delivering flyers which invited people for a “420”, on April 20th, at 4:20 pm.

The flyers didn’t say anything about the Waldos or the true origin of 420 but instead referred that “420 started somewhere in San Rafael, CA [California] in the late ’70s. It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress”. Even if this isn’t completely true, given that Steve Waldo later explained were the term really came from, it had a tremendous impact on the community.

Also written on the flyer was “There’s something fantastic about getting ripped at 4:20, when you know your brothers and sisters all over the country and even the planet are lighting up and tokin’ up right along with you. Now there’s something even grander than getting baked at 4:20. We’re talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grand master of all holidays: 4/20, or April 20th.”

So, as History indicates, “The Waldos” seem to be mostly responsible for the idea of a “stoner holiday”, by coining the term “420” and all its significance for the cannabis culture. Moreover, the Deadhead community (that is, the fans and followers of The Grateful Dead) seems to be responsible for spreading this idea even further, starting with a few flyers in Oakland and then spreading the idea all over the world, across America, Asia, and Europe, when going on tours with the bad.

All these chains of events provided means for uniting the cannabis community with a common purpose, a common “code”, language, and ultimately even a “holiday”, now celebrated all around the world by all kinds of people, from all backgrounds and ages. It was the start of a new era and a small uprising for the cannabis culture.

Nowadays, the 20th of April has gained even further acceptance and is celebrated all over the globe. On this day, people gather for rallies, parties, or even picnics at the park, just to celebrate as a community, providing further discussion and requesting for cannabis legalization and softer laws worldwide.

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