As marijuana lovers mark their unofficial national holiday Monday on April 20, or 4/20, it’s a testament to one man’s marketing powers.
WASHINGTON — 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.
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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.”
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 methods and music by Snoop Dogg.
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.”
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, D.C., pot fans will conclude a democracy vigil, with a day of music and poetry, sewing circles and roundtable discussions.
Adam Eidinger, who headed the D.C. legalization drive, got a special 420 license plate for his 2015 Jeep Wrangler two weeks ago from Mayor Muriel Bowser, who honored the activist for his work.
“This is not something I ever asked for,” he 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.