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420: Canada’s First Legal Celebration

This year, Canada celebrates its first 420 with legalized cannabis. Today, the term “420” is synonymous with smoking cannabis, but have you ever wondered how it all got started? The history goes back almost 50 years to a city in California’s Bay Area. Like many cannabis-related stories, this one also includes a group of high-school students.

The story begins back in 1971, when a group of Californian high-school students, The Waldos, had heard that a U.S. Coast Guard member had abandoned a crop of cannabis plants somewhere around the city. The Waldos soon found a map that allegedly lead to the crop of abandoned cannabis plants off highway 420 in San Francisco. The Waldos followed the map and drove along the 420 to look for the treasured crop.

They never found that fabled spot, but it was from that point on that the group used “420” as their code to signal to each other that they would go smoke. Originally, the term used between the group members was “4:20-Louis,” in reference to the statue of Louis Pasteur they would meet at, but they eventually dropped the Louis, resulting in the term becoming what it is today – 420.

Although the group coined the term “420,” it was spread by the rock band The Grateful Dead. A couple members of The Waldos had connections to the band: the father of one member, Mark Gravitch, managed the band’s real-estate, and the brother of Dave Reddix, another Waldo, was close friends with bassist, Phil Lesh. After hearing about the term, members of The Grateful Dead found themselves using it often as well, even on stage. With the band touring across the world over the next few decades, the term 420 followed them and spread like wildfire.

In an interview with the History Network, Steve Capper, another Waldo, said, “we’d always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something – ‘hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community.”

cannabis-loaded bowl piece on water pipe

The term spread through the Grateful Dead fan community, often called Deadheads, and was eventually discovered by High Times reporter Steven Bloom in 1990. Before a Grateful Dead concert, Bloom was given a flyer describing 420, which he sent to the Huffington Post. From there, 420 went international.

In the present day, cannabis lovers celebrate their favourite plant with marches, festivals, smoke-outs and protests all around the world on April 20. The worldwide phenomenon has garnered the attention of corporate institutions, big brands, governments and public institutions.

Toronto has openly embraced cannabis culture, holding massive festivities for every 420. From comedy fests to public rallies, Torontonians are never short on cannabis-related entertainment in April.

Forty-eight years after the Waldos first went on their green treasure hunt, Canada is celebrating its first year of 420-related activities and celebrations with cannabis being legal. Some are wondering how legalization will impact future 420 celebrations.

Andrew Hathaway, a professor at the University of Guelph who studies illicit drug use and Canadian drug policy, thinks that celebrations may become toned down with legalization.

just a bud of weed

“Now that it’s become more of a mainstream, cultural-wide phenomenon, I think to a certain degree that takes away from some of the quality of the original event that otherwise was there,” he said.

Hathaway mentioned that cannabis users were typically never shy to be out celebrating 420. Regardless of its legal status, the celebrations saw enormous turnouts. Now that cannabis is legal, the novelty of a once-a-year celebration may not seem as appealing to cannabis users who will soon see various cannabis products available at retail stores.

This year’s 420 celebration in Toronto is set to include a rally at Yonge-Dundas Square, a film festival, a flea market, live music and much more. Though the official 420 event is set to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, the parties get rollin’ earlier with several cannabis-themed events taking place the night before. A full list of events is available on the 420 Toronto twitter page (@420Toronto) or on the 420 Toronto Facebook page.

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