April 20 marks the unofficial high holiday of stoner culture, when cannabis enthusiasts around the world celebrate the fine art of smoking pot (or eating it or vaping it or drinking it). This has been a huge year for marijuana legalization, and there are more places to legally light up on 4/20 than ever.
The origins of the term 420 (pronounced “four-twenty”) are a bit hazy. Urban myths swirled for years that 420 was California state penal code for marijuana use, or numbers from a Bob Dylan song multiplied, or even related to Hitler’s birthday. All wrong.
The best evidence points to a group of California high schoolers known as “The Waldos“ who in the early 1970s would meet up after school every day at 4:20pm to get high. The term was then picked up by Grateful Dead followers and spread globally with the help of counter-culture publications like High Times.
What was once a secret code in stoner circles is now so mainstream corporate brands get in on it. This year, Lyft is offering riders in states where marijuana is legal a $4.20 discount. Restaurant chain Hooters is celebrating the release of the sequel to the cult stoner comedy Super Troopers on 4/20 with limited edition “Snozzberry Sauce.”
Marijuana is legal in some form in 46 US states, though the majority only allow use for medical purposes.
For Americans who want to spark up legally on 4/20, recreational use is allowed in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington DC (with Vermont to follow later this year).
It’s been a landmark year for marijuana legalization in the US, despite the best efforts of attorney general Jeff Sessions.
On Jan. 1, California opened the world’s largest legal market for recreational marijuana, which is estimated to reach $5.1 billion this year (researchers have compared the growth rate of the legal weed market to broadband internet in the early 2000s).
Then, Vermont became the first state legislature to legalize recreational marijuana (as opposed to by voter referendum). It will take effect in July. The law doesn’t allow sales, only possession and growing, though governor Phil Scott has ordered an advisory board to study regulating and taxing a legal marketplace.
The US is now home to a growing multibillion-dollar pot industry that isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and elected officials have seen the benefits marijuana tax revenue brings to fund schools and infrastructure.
Colorado senator Cory Gardner staunchly criticized the US Justice Department’s January decision to rescind an Obama-era memo discouraging prosecutors from pursuing cases in states where legalization had passed. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy proved it was possible to run a successful political campaign with marijuana legalization as a central issue, and New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon appears to be following his lead (her campaign website even has a $4.20 donation button).
Update April 20: Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer announced today (April 20) he plans to introduce legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, the latest sign that reform is gaining political traction. The bill would remove cannabis from the list of scheduled substances, mandate research into the drug’s effects, and establish federal authority to regulate advertising as well as funding for women and minority-owned businesses.
“I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined because they had small amounts of marijuana,” he told Vice News on Thursday. “The best thing to do is let each state decide on its own.”
Recreational pot use is gaining acceptance around the globe, though there are still relatively few places where it is fully legal.
- Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize marijuana in 2013 and last year began allowing sales in local pharmacies (though purchase is limited to citizens).
- Canada is drafting regulations to have a system for legal recreational cannabis use for adults in place by July.
- In Peru possession of marijuana isn’t punished as long as it’s for personal, private, immediate use. The Peruvian congress passed a bill in October that legalized medical marijuana, allowing the production, sale, and importation of cannabis oil.
- Spain has a very laid-back attitude when it comes to weed, and its citizens aren’t penalized for growing or consuming privately. Sale is technically illegal, but there more than 800 (link in Spanish) “private” cannabis clubs where membership requires nothing more than a bit of paperwork.
- Marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but authorities will generally turn a blind eye. Selling cannabis is “illegal but not punishable” so officials tolerate it as long as shops follow certain rules, like not advertising or causing a nuisance. Only citizens are allowed to buy marijuana, though Amsterdam’s infamous coffeeshops are exempt from that rule.
Kindland has a list of all the places around the world where marijuana is legal or has been decriminalized.