Five Lies You’ve Been Told About 4/20 and Marijuana

Is the weed war over? Just how great is mid-afternoon for smoking? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: 4/20! Duuuude! Is that number really just about weed? And just how do dates work?

Lie #1: 4:20 Is the Best Time of Day to Smoke Weed

Is it? Is it really? A typical work day goes until 5 p.m. — with increasing amounts of workers having to go beyond that — and smoking is more of a relaxation activity than an at-work thing, really. Even on a weekend, twenty past four is kind of a nothing time. Nobody on weed subreddit r/trees, when asked ideal smoking times, comes out for it. The only people 4:20 really makes sense for are high school students, who, of course, kicked the whole thing off. 

The association between that particular time and weed began in 1971 with a group of friends at San Rafael High, near San Francisco, known as the Waldos. They came across a “treasure map” supposedly leading to a crop of abandoned cannabis plants, and met every day after school at 4:20 to smoke and look for it, eventually adopting the term “420” as a euphemism for weed to allow them to talk about it freely during school hours. The Waldos were friends with the Grateful Dead, and the term really caught on.

(Interestingly, the word “marijuana” came about in a similar kind of way — in the 17th century, Mexican shamen who used cannabis, or pipiltzintzintli, couldn’t talk about it freely due to the Catholic Church banning it. “Marijuana” means “Mary’s things,” a term vaguely Catholic-sounding enough to get away with. However, the word was used in so many racist ways in the U.S. in the 20th century, its “foreignness” endlessly emphasized, that there’s a growing movement to stop using it entirely.)

Some people like waking and baking, some like smoking themselves to sleep, some like smoking to party. Or, as the team at High Times write, “Everybody knows the best time to get high is all the time.” 

Lie #2: 420 Is The Weed Number

It’s so much more than that! It’s the lowest number to be divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It’s what you get if you add 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38 and 40, as well as the sum of a prime quadruple (101, 103, 107 and 109, all indivisible by anything other than themselves and 1). Interesting! Fun! Funteresting!

Lie #3: Weed’s Legal Now, the 4/20 War is Won

With legal cannabis companies popping up everywhere, it’s easy enough to see April 20th’s annual demonstrations and protests in favor of the benefits of cannabis as bordering on irrelevant — it’s done, right?

Alas, no. While more than half of U.S. states have decriminalized or legalized cannabis use, that’s still almost half that haven’t. Plus, there is a big difference between those two statuses — decriminalization is actually kind of bullshit, ensuring a blind eye is turned when a white suburban dad is caught with a joint, but still allowing the market to be controlled by criminal organizations. The Economist accurately describes it as “the worst of both worlds.” There’s also the fact that millions of Americans now have criminal records for acts that are no longer a crime, unfairly preventing them from getting decent jobs (and, in a few areas, registering to vote). Not to mention, some states are quicker working out expungement (and prisoners requesting re-sentencing) than others. (Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to expunge all convictions for cannabis use — that obviously doesn’t cover all offenses but it’s something. Y’know, if it actually happens.)

Even full legalization brings problems with it — there is a huge race issue in the legal weed business, with cheerful white millionaires doing unfairly well out of it while people of color make up a tiny minority of dispensary owners. In 2018, the Drug Policy Alliance wrote, “Marijuana legalization dramatically reduces the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses; however, it does not end racially disparate policing.”

So, yes, there’s still a long way to go for cannabis activists. Just last year, Steve DeAngelo, one of the most prominent figures in the legal cannabis market, launched the Last Prisoner Project, pledging never to stop until every single cannabis prisoner in the world is released. It might take a while — so smoke if you’ve got ‘em.

Lie #4: 4/20 Is the 20th Day of April

Americans format their dates wrong. Sorry, it’s true. Month, day, year is a butt-dumb way of doing it, which is why basically no other country formats their dates like that. It’s not 4/20, it’s 20/4. Day, month, year makes vastly more sense, going from the smallest unit to the biggest unit, rather than going B, A, C like (dumb) U.S. date formats. The one way to make month, then day, make sense is to front-load it with the year, as in the International Standardization Organization’s preferred date format, 2020-04-20.

Lie #5: Stealing A Sign Because It Has The Number 420 On It Sure Is Cool!

Ooh, look at you, you big bad bastard. The point of signs like mile markers is driver safety — if you break down or have an accident on a long-ass highway and have to call for help, you can accurately say where you are. Stealing one because it has the weed number (or a sum of a prime quadruple) on it is therefore kind of a shitty move, plus it costs the state up to $500 to replace.

People do it a lot, though. Marker 420 on the I-70 in Colorado was stolen so many times it ended up being replaced with one that said 419.99 (which, obviously, was also immediately stolen). Goodhue County in Minnesota now has a 42X Street, after repeatedly replacing 420 Street signs. Similarly, the Richard Bong State Recreation Center in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has been through a lot of signs.

Also stolen a lot: anything with 69 on it, leading to several Route 69s being renamed — Utah State Route 38, New Jersey Route 31, Ohio State Route 235 and Texas State Highway 112 all used to be a lot, uh, nicer. The Austrian town of Fucking, the Pennsylvania town of Intercourse and the U.K. village of Shitterton have all ended up spending a fortune on unstealable signs.Meanwhile, Archer’s Way in Doncaster, England, was renamed that after residents got sick of people stealing the sign with its former name emblazoned on it — Butt Hole Road