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What's the 420, dude? America celebrates Pot Day

April 20, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • A marijuana leaf.
A marijuana leaf. (Karen Tapia / Los Angeles…)

Dude! Today is a day of special significance and the appointed hour is 4:20 p.m. What it all means is on the tip of the tongue. Literally.

Welcome to April 20, a day that has come to mean a celebration of marijuana and a protest against the fact that its use, sale and possession are crimes. From the narrow streets of New York’s Greenwich Village to the open expanse of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, users will congregate to do their thing.

Perhaps the most notorious gathering will be at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where last year 10,000 people smoked at the same time. This year, the demonstration may be moved off-campus to avoid clashes with authorities. School officials have decided to close the campus to non-authorized visitors, the Associated Press reports, and were applying a smelly fertilizer to the quadrangle used for the demonstration.

Other protests are planned in Denver and Austin, Texas, where music legend and celebrated toker Willie Nelson will unveil a statute of himself. Or maybe it will be the other way around.

The festivities are scheduled to start at 4:20 p.m. locally. (April 20 was picked because it's 4/20 – at least in the American shorthand.)  The number 420 has come to be connected to marijuana use, though exactly why is buried in the perfumed clouds of the past.

Among the current favorite theories is that the number honors a group of California teenagers who gathered in 1971 to find a lost marijuana crop (proving that treasure myths exist even in the counterculture, similar to the stories of El Dorado or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow). Another theory holds that the number was a police code for drug usage; still another suggests it memorializes the perfect time to light up as the work day winds down and the evening begins with its hot promise.

Whatever the origin, the effect of the day is real, as demonstrations have continued in recent years with legalization a goal.

California in 1996 became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, though that definition can be awfully broad. (Just check out the Venice boardwalk on a golden day.) Sixteen states allow medical marijuana; two states -- Colorado and Washington -- are considering legalizing pot for recreational use.

The federal government has insisted that it will continue to enforce its anti-drug laws.

Just for the record, Pot Day is not the only numerical based commemoration. There is also Pi Day, March 14, in honor of the mathematical function valued at 3.14...

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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