From the Archives: The Power of 420 (2003)

in Culture

By Karen Bettez Halnon

Marijuana-smokers, like members of other close-knit groups, have a special language. But often people in the straight-and-narrow world just don’t understand it. Strange and alien to outsiders are words such as nugs, dank, permagrin, wake’n’bake, blunt, bogarting, Rastafarian, Towlie, or even coffeeshops. After 30 years of full-blown marijuana counterculture, outsiders still remain oblivious to the most special marijuana catchphrase of all: “Four hundred and twenty what?”

What outsiders miss, the discerning (and very possibly slightly reddened) eye can find all around. The 420 imprimatur is on bongs, t-shirts, patches, and coffee mugs. Marijuana fans find it frequently in stoner magazines, headshops, and in music lyrics. They feel lucky if they have 420 phone numbers, street addresses, or birthdays. This number is found at smoker websites, on Saturday Night Live, and in news media on or around every April 20. For many smokers, 420 is a guiding light and inspiration. Basically, for those with a raised consciousness of it, 420 is an essential part of everyday life.

Curious about this hidden yet vibrant phenomenon, I did some research. The results of my sociological investigation were fascinating. Especially intriguing was the potency of 420, unique in the multiple ways it inspires and cultivates identity, community, and even reality.

It’s difficult to even think of another single numerical expression that compares. 411 or 911? Lucky 7? Demonic 666? Trinitarian 3? Sexual 69? Tragic 9/11? LSD-25? Or even the infinite 3.1416…? While these numbers are significant, none by themselves embrace and reflect a community to the extent that 420 does.

In documenting 420, I hope to express the sociological “surprise” of 420. However, sociological surprises do not necessarily provide new information. The surprise of sociology comes when it shines new light on our everyday behaviors and experiences. Everyone on the inside knows that 420 is a most special number. My goal is to explain some …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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