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Apr 22, 2021
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Welcome To The Beginning Of The End Of Illegal 420

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“Back then everything felt so illicit and like a secret. 420 was a secret code and it was like a little community. These days, it seems like the holiday.”


Cannabis was federally outlawed in 1937, through the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Its use was federally outlawed for any use, including medical with the passage of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Just a year later, in 1971, a group of high school stoners invented the code that has been used for the last several decades to signal hush hush reefer activity, calling their outings 420 to shield their illicit activity from nosey peers and teachers.

I “observed” my first 420 in college. It was the halcyon days of the go-go 2010s and I worked on the campus newspaper. Late one April night me and some friends who also worked left the office to “go to McDonald’s”. Which we did, but not before hotboxing for an hour in my friend’s ‘98 Ford Taurus. With an audacity that can only come with youth and naïveté, we did this on the night of a midnight deadline. If you’re thinking that that sounds like hubris, you might be right. We thought that we gave ourselves enough time to come down from our respective highs because we went out to eat around 8pm, leaving us four hours until the midnight deadline. However I, along with everyone else, forgot that I was a complete rookie.

Before that night, I’d never really smoked before. I’d been around cannabis and in the room while others smoked. I didn’t have any issue with it. “What could go wrong,” I thought. Nothing really went wrong, per se, but I was a complete rookie. The herb hit me hard and I fell asleep in the car, and didn’t wake up until after midnight, disoriented and panicky, thinking that I had missed my deadline. Luckily, one of my classmates was pretty astute- she had stayed behind and made sure my section was submitted when I didn’t come back from my secret mission in time, and everyone else did. 

Back then everything felt so illicit and like a secret. 420 was a secret code and it was like a little community. These days, it seems like the holiday has gone completely mainstream. Some lament the mainstreaming of cannabis, and I understand why, but I take a different view. 

These days I look back at that year’s 420 has been one of the most visible I can recall. Stories detailing cannabis decriminalization and the high holy holiday are widely profiled, in the news, and stories about 420 piled into my email inbox. There are weed memes all over social media and no fewer than four people I follow did live smoke with me livestreams on the actual day. Not to mention that more states than ever have approved recreational cannabis, 17 and counting, with legislation on the table in several states. In reality, this 420 could be one of the last illegal ones in our lives. 

One day, I think federally illegal cannabis use for adults will sound as quaint and old timey as the alcohol prohibition and Charleston do to me today. These things were pretty scandalous during their day, but society has moved on. Cannabis is still federally illegal, of course, and decriminalization has had its flaws. Although, it’s not out of the question that in the next decade or so, 420 might become a holiday of the past, as more people indulge with the same regularity as alcohol. Its memory will probably live on through 420 parties, but the days of hiding it from everyone will be gone.

This year was a lot more solemn than in those early days. I worked, and didn’t miss any deadlines, since I reserved my smoke sesh for after work. I spent the high holiday blazing on some Sour Diesel I copped from Select while I watched the George Floyd verdict and shared a dope ass bowl of truffle mac and cheese with my wife. I sat in contemplation and thought about travel destinations I want to hit. Basically, I chilled and let my mind wander, while thinking about a brand new day.

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