It all started back in 1971, when five California teens–the "Waldos" because they hung out at a wall–met by the Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael High School. They arrive at 4:20 p.m. to smoke then adventure out into the world. Their first adventure? Following a treasure map to find an abandoned cannabis farm. [Spoiler: They never found it.]
Over the next two decades, due to one of the Waldos' younger brother's friendship with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, the kids started smoking with the band and the phrase jumped into Deadhead culture. 4:20 became the socially accepted smoke-out time, and April 20 became the all-day iteration of that code.
In 1991, the origin story of 4:20 (and 4/20) finally appeared, appropriately, in High Times magazine. However, all was not peace, love and plants.
Also beginning in 1971, then-President Nixon debuted the “War on Drugs.” In the 1980s, President Reagan put significantly more muscle behind it.
By the time High Times ran that 420 story, the “War on Drugs” resulted in the incarceration of over 1 million Americans every year.
At that time, African-American drug users made up:
- 12% of the US population
- 35% of drug arrests
- 55% of convictions
- 74% of people sent to prison on drug-related offenses
The prejudiced enforcement of US drug laws, then and now, disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities.
420 and cannabis itself became protest symbols against wars, corporations, injustices and conformity. That communally conscious ethos still sits at the heart of the day.
Over time, April 20 became a countercultural holiday: a “half celebration, half call-to-action” advocating for the legalization of cannabis.
That movement continues. Since 2012:
- 38 states have changed their cannabis laws.
- 21 municipalities have done the same.
- 16 states have fully legalized cannabis.
- 84% of American voters now oppose cannabis criminalization.
That is progress, however that progress remains scattershot, patchwork and inequitable. As of today:
- 40,000+ people remain imprisoned for cannabis-related charges in states where it’s no longer a crime.
- 15.7 million people have been arrested for cannabis offenses in just the past decade.
Those statistics sit uncomfortably with the raw dollar estimates highlighting the cannabis industry's exponential growth. These figures include:
- $19.7B in estimated legal recreational sales in 2020.
- 38% in year-over-year growth.
- $84B projected market size by 2028.
All the while, without federal legalization or a baked-in effort centering restorative justice and community rebuilding, we still see eye-popping figures like:
- $47B spent annually on the War on Drugs.
- 73% of cannabis executives are men and 81% are white.
No doubt, the culture around cannabis has evolved significantly over the past half-century. And as that culture’s changed, 4/20’s changed with it.
20+ cities in North America host official festivals (in non-covid times). 31.6% year-over-year increase in sales during the week of 4/20 (2016 to 2020).
This day's been called the “Black Friday” of the cannabis industry, and cannabis-centric observances last all month long. 50 years later, 420 has become more vital than ever.
At AROYA, we honor the 420 spirit of freedom, justice, community and adventure. Today is a day to reflect on and reward the efforts of those who came before us, to recommit ourselves to rectifying injustices in our industry and society, and to celebrate each other and the plant that brings us together. We’ve come this far, yet we have so much farther to grow. Let's not wait another 50 years to get there.