April 20, 2016: Celebrants mark 420 in Mont-Royal Park. Vincenzo D'Alto / Montreal Gazette
Weed Smoker, a.k.a. Danny Curadeau, is planning the mother of all toke fests Thursday on Mount Royal, for the annual “420”: Christmas for the world’s pot smokers, when they get together to publicly flout the law, switch the maple leaf and fleur de lis for the ubiquitous marijuana frond, and send billows of smoke into the faces of idle police.
Before marijuana is legalized in Canada next year – and everyday becomes a 420 – here’s a look at the origins of the international stoner holiday on April 20, and what, if anything, will change for Weed Smoker and his peers.The 420 – alternative facts
April 20 might have been Adolf Hitler’s birthday, but he had nothing to do with the annual holiday to celebrate cannabis culture.
Other alternative facts advanced to explain the origins of 420, also known as 4:20 or 4/20, is that it is the penal code section for marijuana use in California, or a police radio code for “marijuana smoking in progress.”
As Snopes, the website devoted to debunking urban legends remarks, “It’s not the police radio code for anything, let alone that.”
Snopes similarly dismisses the idea that 420 is related to the number of chemical compounds in marijuana (there are 315), that it’s a universal code to send to your drug dealer’s pager – “yeah, right” – or that the Grateful Dead, the musical personification of 420, always stayed in Room 420 when on tour.Truth and consequences
So where does “420” come from? By most accounts, including one in High Times magazine, the term originated in 1971 with a group of high school students in San Rafael, California, who began meeting up every day at 4:20 p.m. at the Louis Pasteur statue on their school’s grounds, first to search for an abandoned field of cannabis they had heard about, then just to smoke pot.
Partly spread by the aforementioned Grateful Dead – who were also based in San Rafael – the expression caught on, and was then used to designate the socially acceptable time to smoke marijuana, or as a code word for the still-illicit activity.
Since then, there has been a 420 band, a beer, a record label, and a travel agency – with tours to the Netherlands and Jamaica. Legislation introduced in 2003 to make medicinal marijuana legal in California was called Senate Bill 420.
The popularization of the term has had less benign consequences, however. In several states, street signs and highway mile markers with “420” on them have repeatedly been stolen, prompting some authorities to post “419.99” signs in an effort to “thwart stoners,” as one headline put it.Today’s 420
The 420 is celebrated around the world, but the biggest celebrations have been in North America, including on Hippie Hill in San Francisco and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and with mass gatherings here in Canada on Parliament Hill and Mount Royal among other places.
While London police arrested 20 people at last year’s event in Hyde Park, the Montreal police say they’ve never made any arrests at the 420.
“We’re not planning any kind of intervention,” says Montreal police commander Marie-Claude Dandenault, adding that at last year’s event, the police only had to intervene to tow a few cars haphazardly parked on Parc Ave.
“(The holiday) is recognized and tolerated around the world in several countries and so we follow suit. It’s about consuming in parks. It’s in one place, for one day – obviously, if it was a recurring event, we would re-evaluate our approach.”
For Curadeau – a member of the National Joint League, a creative rolling competition – it’s about the collective effort when everybody acts as if marijuana is already legal.
So far, some 384 people have indicated on Facebook they will join him on Mount Royal Thursday, and another 791 are interested. His event is only one of several beckoning people to the mountain.
When he first posted the event, he described it as: “We get together to roll the biggest joint then we smoke it.” Some time later he posted again: “Who wants to get together ahead of time to roll a big joint?”Soon every day will be 420?
The event has always had a political purpose – to push for the legalization of marijuana. But that is no longer a pipe dream. Last week, the federal government introduced legislation to legalize marijuana by mid-2018.
Curadeau, 29, says Justin Trudeau’s initiative will improve things for society at large, and for him in particular.
“Police will be able to concentrate on real crimes,” says Curadeau, who started smoking at 18. “It’ll help reduce our debt. It will combat organized crime. People who are ill will no longer see it as a crime and will seek treatment (with medicinal marijuana). For me it will change a lot. A lot of people see me as a criminal, but I am an artist … It’s hard to make yourself known when what you do is considered illegal.”
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