Is 420 Passé?

Is 4:20 passé? A cliché? Or any other French word that ends with an accented é? As someone who was in on the ground floor of 420, I would have to say that in terms of the original meaning of 420, yes, it has become trite, or maybe trité is a better description.

Yes it was officially coined in 1971 by some guys from San Rafael High School in Marin County in the San Francisco Bay Area, but by the time I learned about it in 1987 (from a graduate of San Rafael High School) it was still a super secret society. Remember, this was before the internet, before cell phones. Stuff just didn’t get talked about outside its place of origin too often, and when it finally did, like skateboarding, or grafitti, or rap music, the result was that it was often a sad parody of its original form, commercialized and debased. With 420, the secret stayed mostly secret until my boy at High Times, Steve Bloom, (what up Steve, we need to hang in Berlin again!) broke the story in 1990 and that was the beginning of the commercializaton.

If you haven’t seen the Lagunitas video on YouTube about the origins of 420, you should watch it. It’s spot on, and the owner of Lagunitas Brewing, who is the narrator interviewing the originators of 420, is right to be annoyed at the guys from Sweetwater Brewing in Georgia (even though the narrator says the brewery was “somewhere in Maine”, it’s actually in Atlanta, Georgia, a fact I think he knew but was dissing them by acting like they were so inconsequential their place of origin wasn’t even relevant since it wasn’t West Coast). 

He was annoyed because Sweetwater Brewing had the nerve to tell him he couldn’t use 420 on his promotional art anymore as they, super late-comers to the 420 party, owned a trademark on it for their 420 ale. From bumfuck Georgia. Gimme a break.

What’s funny is that I have a personal connection to that part of the documentary, as I created the Hop Hash beer label for Caldera Brewing, and the owner of Caldera had a trademark on Hop Hash, so when he saw a Hop Hash beer label by Sweetwater he sent them a cease and desist letter. They couldn’t claim to have innocently invented the name either, because when we submitted my Hop Hash label to the TTB (the government agency in charge of alcohol label approval), I had the vape-inspired wisdom to suggest to the owner of Caldera that we should make the description of the beer be about how it was like a breakfast hash, meaning the reference was to food, not weed, as the TTB at that time and probably still today—did not allow any reference to cannabis in labeling for alcoholic beverages. 

It was this little detail that made it obvious Sweetwater Brewing had blatantly stolen the Hop Hash label, as even though their art was different, their description of the beer was almost verbatim from the description we came up with. So, for them to then act all righteous about 420 and threaten Lagunitas, who was part of the original crew that invented 420, is just laughable.

Anyway, I digress. If you didn’t go watch that video it’s basically the founder of Lagunitas Brewing interviewing the guys who started 420 in 1971, on location at San Rafael High School back in 2015. And the guy I learned about 420 from (a graduate of San Rafael High School), was living in the dorms at University of Oregon in Eugene the same year I was, both of us in our freshman year. 

He was all about it, meaning that we got ready at 4:19 every afternoon (and even some drunk mornings), and sparked up at exactly 4:20 on whatever clock we had access to, which was before everyone had phones with the exact same time on them. What a bunch of automatons we are now!

This, my friend told me, was the essence of 420. That you were now smoking weed with friends you weren’t necessarily in the room with, because they too were smoking weed somewhere at the exact same time. Being from the high school where 420 was invented, my friend had firsthand knowledge of this being the true meaning of 420 as it had evolved since 1971. This was back when 4:20 was exclusively a West Coast thing and there was no concept of doing it in other time zones. I personally think it should still be honored in this way, like Greenwich Mean Time, and that in places like Colorado they should be required to light up at 5:20 if they really want to claim they’re honoring 4:20 ; )

Fast forward to today and you’ve got girls on dating apps saying they’re 420-friendly, but do they even smoke weed at exactly 4:20? Especially now that their phone tells them it’s  exactly 4:20? I truly doubt it, and wonder who still smokes weed at 4:20 to honor the OG traditon. 

I know I did today. Did you?