Four Twenty

Today is an underground holiday, of sorts.  Nobody knows when it started, or how it started, but, I assure you, more people than you can imagine will partake in it.


“Four Twenty” (or 4:20 or 4/20) is something of an urban legend, (sub)cultural joke, and community-building practice all rolled into one.  (Hehehehe, he said “rolled.”)  For those of you who don’t know (and, really, if you found this, you do) it refers to a time of day (and, annually, a day of the year) when people are supposed to get high by smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana.

Depending on the generation “observing” the feast, it has been alternately a form of collective political rebellion (thumbing one’s nose at a law prohibiting the very celebration in question); a mark of a distinctive generational status (“we” get high but “they” didn’t); and a form of nurturing an “imagined” community (no matter where you are, if you get high at 4:20 or at 4:20 on 4/20 then you are not getting high alone).


As with any cultural phenomena based more on rumor and humor than on any single historical event, there’s no particular reason for this.  Legend has it that 4-20 is the part of the criminal code somewhere which makes smoking pot a crime.  It’s not, but that doesn’t stop the story from being told from one generation to the next.  Others have (more recently) linked it to urban legends about happenings at high schools (the time detention got out at one; the locker number of where one dealt the contraband at another).  I suspect the events at Columbine in 1999 may have had something to do with linking it in the collective memory to some kind of high school rebellion, but those rumors, too, are just that.

The tradition continues, however, as it probably will for the, well, forever.  As somebody who works on a college campus, I am never surprised to see the “next” generation’s participation in this version of “pot culture.”  Ten years from now, most of those doing what they’re doing, will either be non-smokers remembering their youthful indiscretions, teetotalers trying to get the “drugs away from our children,” or addicts.

Which will you be?  Huh?  Yeah, I’m talking to you.  Imagine that!  Me!  Talking to you!!  And we’ve never even met!!!  And you’re just sitting there, at your computer, with all that belly-button lint!!  And I’m using so many exclamation marks!  Did you ever notice how that word was spelled: e-x-c-l-a-m-a-t-i-o-n.  The word “clam” is in there?  And “mation”!  My god, I have to Google search “mation”!!

But, today, they were people who alter their mental state by imbibing an herb that modern U.S. society has decided to criminalize.



8 thoughts on “Four Twenty

  1. So when exactly did it begin? I was a pretty regular pot smoke up until about 1997 when I moved away from my stoner buddies started graduate school. I am pretty sure that 4:20 didn’t exist before then or I would have known about it then. I only heard of 4:20 a couple years ago, so don’t you think it is really to early to talk about past generations in this respect. I do or would still smoke it occasionally if and when I have the chance. Its been about 3 years since my last toke. I don’t think we smoked at 4:20.

  2. Let me put it this way: people used to flash 4:20 signs back in the mid-seventies when Black Sabbath played Sweet Leaf. It’s old. Pre-Star Wars old.

    As for why you hadn’t heard of it until a couple of decades later? Well, what can I say, my friend? I hadn’t heard of fellatio until 1982 and turns out those Greeks were blowing each other left and right thousands of years ago.

  3. It’s definitely been around for a while – at LEAST since the 70s. Some claim that 4/20 has something to do with Hitler’s birthday…the jury is out, however.

    It’s a harmless holiday filled with good-natured idiocy and munchies. And plenty of Cheech and Chong, or perhaps, these days, Harold and Kumar…or my favorite, DAZED AND CONFUSED! Woo hoo!

  4. You said Pre-Star Wars hahaha, The only thing I know is Bob Dylan Blond on Blond first Track Rainy Day Women 12 & 35 if one were to do the math 12 x 35 = 420 That was 1966 so go smoke that shit. Best Stoner Movie “Batman The Movie” prove me wrong.

  5. Really? 4:20 goes back to the 70s? Did it have some kind of hiatus from about the early 80s to the mid 90’s, when it was less popular, during the prime of my pot smoking days? Mmmm, maybe pot damaged my long-term memory more than I thought it had done.

  6. Pingback: Erik Estrada is more popular than pot « LATINO LIKE ME

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