In 1990, Steven Hager saw a flier that had circulated at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, Calif., urging people to meet at Mount Tamalpais at 4:20 p.m. on April 20 for some “420”-ing, the number that had become code for smoking marijuana in California.
Hager, then the editor of High Times magazine, had never heard of it, but he was intrigued. Hager did some research, discovering that the 420 code had first been used in 1971, when five friends at San Rafael High School smoked pot each day at 4:20 p.m.
“I thought, ‘This is important!’ And you know everybody thought I had lost my mind,” said Hager, 63, of New York City. “I started talking to people and I said we will build everything around 420 – 420 is the new everything.”
As marijuana lovers mark their unofficial national holiday Monday on April 20, or 4/20, it’s a testament to Hager’s marketing powers.
Events are scheduled in 420-friendly locales across the country, including 420 smoke-ins, 420 concerts, 420 bake-offs, $4.20 joints sold at 420 pot shops, happy hours at 4:20 p.m., 420 club crawls. People will take 420-friendly shuttles to 420-friendly hotels. Couples will go on 420-friendly dates. And voters will talk to 420-friendly candidates.
Pot lobbyists say the tone of the day has changed as marijuana has moved into the mainstream, with polls showing a majority of Americans backing legalization and voters in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia already approving the drug for recreational use.
“Most of our chapters are in celebration mode,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “That was not the case 10 years ago; 4/20 was a day of protest.”
St. Pierre said a friend gave him 5 grams of marijuana as a gift for the holiday, often called Weed Day. He planned to invite friends to his home in Washington, D.C., for the evening.
“It’ll be a given that as they come in the door they’ll be given party treats and other things and we will legally consume cannabis,” he said.
Signs of 420 have popped up everywhere and are in high demand. Pot fans cheered when some of the clocks in the 1994 film “ Pulp Fiction” were set at 4:20. Room signs with the number 420 in college dorms have a mysterious way of disappearing. And in Colorado, the state Transportation Department responded to multiple thefts of the 420-milepost sign on Interstate 70 last year by putting up a new marker numbered 419.99.
The biggest events are planned in Colorado, the first state to open recreational marijuana stores, in January 2014. Denver is hosting the High Times Cannabis Cup, where presenters will focus on “emerging edibles,” cannabis concentrates, breeding plants, cultivation techniques and music by Snoop Dogg.
Business types can head to a marijuana investor’s summit in the city. And Boulder-based Bud and Breakfast has offered to rent 420-friendly lodging to out-of-town visitors.
In California, thousands are expected at a smoke-out at Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, while a 420 Freedom Fest by 420 Nurses is scheduled in Los Angeles.
New York will host the Reefer Madness Reunion Concert. Texas will have a puff-puff-putt miniature golf tournament. And Oregon will have a cannabis awareness walk.
In Washington state, Seattle will host the 420 Fest, while a 420 cannabis bus tour in Tacoma will take visitors to pot shops. The $10 tour will include speakers who will explain such things as why people get the munchies and what to do if you get too high, but participants won’t be allowed to smoke any pot.
“This is definitely not a party bus,” said Angela Jossy, often known as the “Duchess of Downtown,” who’s organizing the tour. But she added that the day has no significance for her. “I’m actually not a big pot smoker myself. This is really about supporting local business.”
In Washington, D.C., pot fans will conclude a democracy vigil, with a day of music and poetry, sewing circles and roundtable discussions on tap.
Adam Eidinger, who headed the D.C. legalization drive, got a special 420 license plate for his 2015 Jeep Wrangler two weeks ago from the city’s new mayor, Muriel Bowser, who honored the activist for his work.
“This is not something I ever asked for,” Eidinger said. “It’s one of the greatest honors I’ve ever gotten in my life.”
While the 420 phenomenon originated with the five San Rafael teens who called themselves the Waldos, St. Pierre said Hager served as “the real catalyst and visionary” in publicizing it.
“Without him, I don’t think there’s any way that this interesting numerology that has crept deep into American culture and commerce would have happened,” he said.
Other theories have emerged. There are roughly 420 active chemicals in marijuana. And the title of Bob Dylan’s “ Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” the song where he implores that “everybody must get stoned,” contains two numbers that when multiplied together equal 420.
“The Waldos did invent it – I’m the guy who picked up the flag,” Hager said. “And it’s not any of these other crazy coincidences that people bring up. But it’s just amazing the way this synchronicity exists. That’s the magic of numbers.”
Hager predicted that the 420 mania will only grow.
“It’s just starting to kick off, trust me,” he said.
But it’s already passe for some, similar to drinking alcohol on New Year’s Eve.
“For me, 4/20 is like most party-fueled holidays – it’s amateur hour,” Katie Shapiro, a freelance travel and style writer, wrote in the Denver Post last week.
And for many marijuana users under 30, St. Pierre said there’s a more popular number – 710. If you read the numbers upside down, they spell “OIL.”
“These kids are so much more into the marijuana oils and vapors,” St. Pierre said. “They’ve developed a whole new subculture of marijuana consumption around 710 and they sort of look down their nose on 420.”
In July, Denver will host the 710 Cup, billed as another new celebration of cannabis culture and fashion.