420 uk marijuana weed

420 | What’s the story behind the marijuana holiday?

It’s 420 this Thursday. The annual marijuana holiday will see people across the world celebrate their favourite herb, but where did 420 come from, how will the UK celebrate, and will Britain legalise weed?

Where does 420 come from?

This is a simple question with a somewhat disputed answer.

The most popular theory involves a group of five students from San Rafael High School in California back in 1971. Each day, the group would meet at 4:20 p.m by their school’s statue of Louis Pasteur to indulge in a spot of cannabis consumption. The group would become known as the Waldos, and consisted of Dave Reddix, Steve Capper, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich. Between them, “420” would become code for marijuana.

Speaking to TIME in 2017, Reddix said: “We got tired of the Friday-night football scene with all of the jocks. We were the guys sitting under the stands smoking a doobie, wondering what we were doing there.”

420 uk marijuana weed

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It became popularised in the early ’90s, after a group of ‘Deadheads’ started passing out flyers in Oakland, inviting people to smoke on 20 April at 4:20 p.m. One made their way to High Times magazine, an outlet specialising in marijuana matters. They published it in 1991 and the rest is history.

The Waldos of San Rafael became the most prominent answer after High Times themselves acknowledged their claim to the throne in 1998. 

Another theory is that “420” was code for marijuana among police officers, though there is little evidence of this. 

Some people with too much time on their hands (stoners?), think it’s to do with the Bob Dylan song ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’. Twelve multiplied by thirty-five is, you guessed it… 420. 

The date also marks Adolf Hitler’s birthday, and although the evil man was said to have a penchant for narcotics, I imagine he preferred an upper to a downer. Weed doesn’t strike me as the drug of a tyrant.

How is 420 celebrated in the UK?

Despite being a relatively recent phenomenon in the UK, the annual 420 gathering in London’s Hyde Park has become very well-documented since it started in the early 2000s. 

420 uk marijuana weed

Thousands descend on the park in the centre of the capital, smoke weed and advocate for the legalisation of cannabis. The giant clouds of smoke and semi-comatose stoners don’t always present the most convincing argument, but they remain largely untroubled by the police, so long as there’s no violence.

Criticism of the event typically focuses on the environmental and financial impact. The large number of people there means the park is often left covered in litter, while people have also pointed out underage smokers in attendance and partaking in a spliff or three.

Will Britain legalise weed?

Polling from YouGov suggests that public opinion is now in favour of legalisation, with over half of people supporting the move. Comparatively, just 32 per cent of people opposed it, while the remaining respondents said they weren’t sure.

Nonetheless, there are no plans to change the law on cannabis, according to Downing Street, as of November 2022. This clarification came not in response to Britain potentially legalising weed, but rather after reports emerged that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, was considering upgrading marijuana to a Class A drug. This would put it in the same category as heroin, cocaine and ecstacy. 

420 uk marijuana weed thailand legalisation

A man dressed in a marijuana suit stands with mature marijuana plants at a marijuana legalization in Buriram, Thailand. On June 9, 2022 Thailand officially decriminalized marijuana cultivation and possession. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

Humza Yousaf, then the Scottish Health Secretary and now the First Minister, described the potential move of marijuana to Class A as “regressive” and “dangerous”.

Medical use of cannabis is legal in some situations, however, and has been since 2018. It is usually reserved for treatment in situations where other methods have failed, and access remains difficult.

Interestingly, despite it being largely inaccessible to patients in the UK, a 2016 report by the United Nations found Britain was the largest exporter of medical marijuana in the world. 

According to the Office for National Statistics in June 2022, 7.4 per cent of UK adults aged 16 to 59 years had used weed in the previous 12 months. Among those aged 16 to 24 years old, that number rose to 16.2 per cent. 


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