420 Holiday/Metafolklore

My informant is a college student, artist and avid pot smoker. He knows a lot of “stoner tricks” as he calls them, most of which he learned from friends in high school. These and other aspects of weed culture mean a lot to him because he sees pot as a way of bonding with peers and enhancing creativity. Uniquely, as far as I have heard, he also uses it as a form of self-medication; he has ADHD and takes Ritalin, but says that it makes him feel mentally cloudy and slow, and that weed, for him, clears things up and makes him able to focus more easily. Thus, pot is an integral part of his daily life, both socially and personally.

He first heard about 420 in late middle school or early high school from friends, and first celebrated it three years ago. He has partaken in the festivities every year on April 20th since.

This interview was conducted during a break in class, outside the classroom on a balcony.

“What is 420?”

“Hold on I gotta look something up real quick, gotta fact-check for a second…”
“Naw man you’re not allowed to!”

“Aw really? Alright I’m not on my A game man, but I’ll tell you what I can remember… So the gist of it is that there was like a group of students once upon a time probably in the 60s that met afterschool everyday at 4:20 at a certain statue or a certain landmark on campus like right outside their school to go smoke, so that’s the reason, because it was at 4:20 in the afternoon. And there’s been rumors as to other reasons why, so like some people thought that it’s Hitler’s birthday and that’s why, but I don’t know why people would celebrate that so that’s kind of a dumb one but then another one is that there’s a law, some proposition in the police code that has to do with arresting people for marijuana that is 420 or something…”

“I heard it was police code, like ohh 420 alert, somebody’s smoking weed”

“Yeah that’s something I’ve heard before as well but that’s also not true. See some of these might have some truth to them so like for example I think Hitler’s birthday is actually on April 20th, but it’s just a coincidence like that’s not the actual reason. But back to the students, I mean I guess school let out at 4pm so they figured like hey, 20 minutes to get to the spot and they had like a smoke spot that I believe was behind a statue but I could be wrong about that, and, um, that just permeates into stoner culture, like everyone has their smoke spot, you know, cause it’s illegal in most places so you have to have a place you’re relatively sure is safe, so everyone has their spot that they’ve come up with… And we used to have a spot, you know back home…”

“Oh yeah? What was your spot?”
“Well there was this shortcut through the woods near my friend’s house that went to a public pool, and like we would just take that shortcut and like, go off into the woods, kind of off to the side, and smoke there, but they put some lights there so we like can’t do it this year cause unfortunately it’s well lit now, but RIP smoke spot… Anyway well the other thing is that now it’s like a holiday, right, so at 4:20am and 4:20pm and all day 4/20 [April 20th] people just smoke a lot of weed basically, and it’s turned into a cultural icon I guess.”

“How do you celebrate 4/20?”

“Well I mean I’ve only celebrated it three times… but uh, lemme think. Well, it’s the same as everyone, just get as high as many different ways as possible, like collect them all, like try to do every different method in one day, that’s one thing you could do that’s like kind of fun, I tried that once I think my second time.”

My informant is obviously very interested in having accurate information, and sets his stories apart from “wives’ tales” in stoner culture as truth and having been “fact-checked”. I found this interesting because upon asking him, most of what he thought was “wives’ tales” came from friends and most of what he thought was true he had fact-checked on online forums about weed. I also think that the context in which he heard this piece of folklore and the metafolklore surrounding it is interesting because it is in the early teenage years when people become introduced to the concept of drugs, especially pot, and when many people begin to try it. His attachment to the truth reveals his attachment to being a more “legitimate” person within his identity as a stoner.