This Week in Weed: What the 50th anniversary of 420 will look like amid the pandemic

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of 420. Photo by Dougie Jones/Shutterstock.

Cannabis connoisseurs and even some anti-drug advocates are familiar with the number 420. It’s the time that stoners are supposed to light one up, and also the date that pot patrons consider their own holiday. This year is a special one — the 50th anniversary of 420

David Downs, Senior Editor at, tells KCRW what it’s going to look like amid the pandemic. 

KCRW: A lot of people have heard of 420 as a festive day for the weed world, but many don’t know where the date comes from. What’s the history?

David Downs: “When I think really hard about it, I realize that if it wasn't for police and prohibition, we probably wouldn't even have the term. It goes back to 1971 in a Northern California high school clique, and in this clique, they enjoyed smoking cannabis and going around on adventures in the Northern Bay Area. 

One of the kids’ dads in this clique was a narcotics officer, and they were already used to using numerical codes and associating with behavior, specifically criminal behavior back in the height of prohibition in the 70s with regard to marijuana. 

So these kids use this phrase ‘420 Louis’ as a phrase to sort of denote like, ‘Hey, let's meet at 4:20 p.m. at the statue in front of campus and go out and have on one of our adventures.’ 

Well, the Northern Bay Area cannabis community is really deep. The band Grateful Dead picked up on the term 420 as code for cannabis in a culture where millions of people were going to jail for marijuana and it was really ruining lives. High times picked it up. And nowadays it's more of a commercial thing, but it bears to mention that it stems from a time when smoking cannabis and being involved with it could severely alter your life trajectory.”

How big is the holiday now?

“It's a commercial holiday subject to the rigors of marketing. And so it's one of the biggest sales days of the year, and this is an industry that …  employs 321,000 full-time jobs. And so stores of every stripe are running deals and doorbusters, although they're spreading out the sales across the month because they still want to keep traffic low. They're still continuing to do delivery and pickup and other sort of modern forms of sales that are safer and cleaner.”

Last year’s 420 was dark for some cannabis users. It was the early days of the pandemic, and many people were shuttered indoors under stay-at-home orders. What did it look like last year, and what’s this year looking like?

“It was rough. A lot of people were going online for the first time, and it was very weird for everybody.

When I look at the 2021 online event space for 420, gatherings remain prohibited, but the online space is maturing really well. 

So comedy shows and concerts, you're going to have your pick of them for free and for pay-per-view the whole day. And in the days running up to that.

… Bob Saget, the comedian who did ‘Full House’ … is headlining this event called Couch Locked by Cookies! And it starts at 1:00 p.m. on April 20th. They have a limited in-person seating that's COVID safe, but then the whole thing is streamed on pay-per-view so everybody else can come along. 

I personally have been to some Zoom comedy shows that worked, and the comedians get a reaction from the media stream and it's less weird for everybody. 

So by this point … you're entertaining yourself and you're just hoping for all of this to sort of weigh down and maybe go outside more.”

Usually stores offer deals, products, and incentives for the holiday. What’s going to be a hit this year?

“I think people are going to go with the standards and especially because there are newbies this year. And so newbies buy a lot of pre-rolls, which are the pre-rolled joints that you just light one end and smoke out of.It's like a cigarette. Newbies buy a lot of edibles, those gummies you keep hearing about in 10 milligrams or less, and five milligrams, or one-to-one ratios of THC to CBD to prevent you from being too high.

I do think your bud tenders are going to be really good at pinpointing people who are coming into cannabis for the first time in April. April's a big month for people just trying cannabis. And now more than ever, you can try it in a safe and controlled way … a modality that feels comfortable to you and in a place that feels comfortable.”



Larry Perel


Tara Atrian