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Monday April 18, 2022

By Paul Barach

Cannabis activists holding up signs protesting the War on Drugs 420 Culture

The 420 holiday turns 31 this year. That is, if you consider a gathering of Bay Area Deadheads on 4/20/1991 as the first “official” 420 (and we do). As with anything that’s reached its third decade, one has to ask: Is 420 still cool? Has 4/20’s popularity lost its rebelliousness and luster?

The 420 Rally held in Denver still draws a crowd, but you’ll still get ticketed for smoking weed there. A lot of the original rebellious fun seems to have drained out of 420 concerts and 420 events, especially in legalized states. After all, if you can just flash a valid ID and buy a legal joint on your way to the rally, what exactly are you fighting for? If weed is widely available to consumers, what makes 420 different from any other day? Or, does the increased availability and popularity of weed make 420’s popularity higher than ever?

Join PotGuide as we delve into whether 420’s popularity is really waning, what it means today, and where it may be heading.

Is 420’s Popularity Waning?

On the contrary, the 420 holiday is perhaps better known now than ever. “Weed culture,” with its shared references, in-jokes, and rebellious undertones, has now simply become a part of culture. 420’s popularity as a code-word and a holiday has grown to the point where major brands and corporations are winking at consumers every April as part of their standard ad campaign cycles.

While the Covid-19 pandemic caused the yearly 420 rallies in Colorado, Vancouver, and others to be canceled, Denver’s is back on this year, as are the major 420 events in San Francisco, Washington D.C. They’re all expecting a big turnout with music, food, vendor booths, and more.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Boulder, CU campus with smoke above the crowd
The college in Boulder, Colorado University, celebrating 420 with clouds of smoke rising. photo credit

In addition, 420 parties are still being held among 420-friendly friends across the country, as well as 420-themed comedy shows, 420 concerts, and more. As of a 2021 Gallup poll, nearly half of US adults have tried marijuana, up from just 30% in 1985.

The same poll showed around 12% of US adults consume cannabis regularly, up from just 7% a decade ago. A whopping 90% of US adults believe marijuana should be legalized in some form. With so much popular support, one can assume a majority of Americans are at least down with the 420 holiday, if not celebrating it themselves.

Does 420 Still Matter?

The 420 holiday isn’t the rebellious fun as it used to be. The idea of gathering together to publicly smoke weed in defiance of an unjust law used to be a rallying point. Denver’s original 420 celebration used to be a monthly act of civil disobedience led by activist Ken Gorman before growing organically into a yearly gathering. On 420, people from all walks of life could gather and show their support. They could sign petitions, hear speeches, or march through the streets to show their support.

Now, for cannabis consumers in 18 recreational states and 37 medical states (and Washington DC), showing their support for marijuana means going into a well-dispensary, showing their medical card or driver’s license, and contributing to their state’s tax revenue. There’s still plenty of work to be done at both the state and federal level, but 420’s popularity as a time for organizing has waned, which is to the detriment of the legalization fight.

Group of protesters walking down city street, holding up signs stating Legalize
            It!, Marijuana is MnNorml , and Don't Hate, Educate.
Many previous 4/20 events were marches to fight for legalization in their state. photo credit

Possession of less than an ounce has been decriminalized in a majority of US states that are still under prohibition laws, but there’s still plenty to be fixed in legalized states. There’s still an issue of corporate consolidation, the protection of craft cannabis farmers, and the push for expungement of criminal records. While this has happened in a few states, the criminal justice reform and social equity parts of legal weed are lagging far behind.

420’s popularity is higher than ever, but 420 rallies and 420 concerts are more about celebrating cannabis than fighting for it.

420’s Popularity Going Forward

Unless the presidential administration decides to crack down on cannabis, legalization will continue to spread across the United States, and 4/20’s popularity will continue to grow. Weed is pretty fun, and everyone wants to celebrate the holiday with friends. Legalization is without question a net positive and should be celebrated.

However, it’s always important to remember that cannabis legalization didn’t just happen. It took generations of organizing both on April 20th and 364 other days of the year to get medical and recreational bills on the ballot, through the state senate, and onto the governor’s desk. There is so much more to do.

People shouting and cheering with cardboard signs reading, Legalize Cannabis, with an American flag
            behind them, at the park.
Thanks to previous rallies and protests, 4/20 has help legalize cannabis in multiple states. photo credit

Weed is still a Schedule 1 drug. In the decade since the first states legalized recreational weed, we haven’t come close to de-scheduling it. This has enormous consequences to this day. Without access to credit, dispensaries still need to operate as cash-only businesses. This makes them targets for robberies, with sometimes lethal consequences.

The highest percentage of drug arrests in the US are still for marijuana possession, people are still in prison in legalized states for prior marijuana charges, and others have criminal records that will affect their employment for the rest of their lives. Minorities are still under-represented in cannabis business ownership. And certain industries and politicians are still looking to halt progress.

So, while everyone should of course have a happy and safe time at a 420 rally, 420 concert, 420 comedy show, or 420 party, remember to also organize and vote the other 364 days out of the year so that everyone can enjoy a happy 420.

Is the 4/20 holiday still a big part of your individual cannabis culture? Why or why not? Share your comments below!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

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