4/20 Day: Marijuana on California's Other Religious Holiday

4/20 Day: Marijuana on California's Other Religious Holiday

Easter Sunday 2014 coincides with the 20th of April–otherwise known as 4/20 Day, for 420, a number that has come to symbolize marijuana smoking for the pot subculture. Legends abound as to the origins of the symbol, but Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post traced it back in 2009 to a group of friends from San Rafael in Marin County, CA–not unlike President Barack Obama’s “Choom Gang” in Honolulu–who invented the number.

Grim wrote that “a group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos–by virtue of their chosen hang-out spot, a wall outside the school–coined the term in 1971.” Other theories hold that local police used the number as a code for “Marijuana Smoking in Progress”–much as the number “419,” from the Nigerian criminal code, symbolizes familiar e-mail scams asking for bank account numbers in return for a share of foreign loot.

Whatever the origin, April 20 has become an international day of protest against laws banning or restricting the use of marijuana, as well as a day to celebrate the subculture that surrounds the weed. In California, the day is something of a holy ritual for thousands of pot enthusiasts, both habitual and casual. Since 4/20 coincides with Easter this year, some churches are embracing the day’s symbolism to reach out to congregants, the AP notes.

Pastor Justice Coleman told the AP that his church in the hipster haven of Highland Park, Los Angeles, would “put together a talk or a program that wouldn’t celebrate smoking weed, but would celebrate the idea that there’s so much more to life.” There is outreach in the other direction, too: some medical marijuana shops have run Easter-themed specials, including “plastic eggs stuffed with pot-infused chocolate truffles,” the AP reports.

For many marijuana enthusiasts, however, 4/20 is just 420 as usual. The back pages of the L.A. Weekly are filled with advertisements from pot shops to mark the “holiday”: an ad from the Figueroa Patients Association for a “420 Smokeout” offers “grams starting @$5” and a “happy hour” starting at 4:20 p.m. Others offer cheap medical consultations for medical marijuana cards, free massages for customers, and discounts to college students and to members of the U.S. armed forces (though the latter are barred from using drugs, even legally).

Aside from the recreational side of 4/20, there is a political side as well, as activists use the day to push for the full legalization of marijuana. Voters in Colorado and Washington recently legalized the drug for recreational use, and while a similar measure failed in California in 2010, recent polls suggest support is gaining strength.

The marijuana industry is suddenly a booming business, too. A recent Canadian law that legalized the growth of medical marijuana by private companies has triggered a sudden rush of new investment, the Wall Street Journal reports this weekend, and the industry in the U.S. could be worth $2.5 billion by the end of 2014. Others focus on distribution and advertising, such as, which also pushes for greater legalization.

Yet for many observing 4/20 Day, this Easter Sunday is just another day to enjoy getting high in the sunshine with friends. The day also coincides with the final, sacred two days of the Jewish holiday of Passover, starting at sundown. Jewish law discourages marijuana use, but unlike the Sabbath, when fire may not be used, smoking is tolerated on weekday festivals. Undoubtedly, some of the faithful will be “passing over” more than the matzah.