The high holiday

There exists a holiday that is like Christmas but with different trees, or like Thanksgiving but only in terms of food consumption. April 20, known simply as 4/20, is the unofficial holiday celebrating America’s drug of choice, marijuana.

The reason for the holiday’s date is subject to debate. One student on campus said 420 was “the official police code for marijuana-smoking.”

One thought it had to do with “Bob Marley’s birth — or maybe his death?”

Another said, “Uh, what was the question again?”

The most probable explanation of the 4/20 moniker is that the number originally referred to a time — not a date.

According to High Times magazine, Steve Waldo and his friends at San Rafael High School in California used the number in the early ’70s as a code for weed. It was 4:20 p.m. when detention let out and the students routinely met at a statue on campus to light up. The stoner code caught on, spawning a holiday as well as a term synonymous with pot smoking.

While it might not be found on any run-of-the-mill calendar, 4/20 is recognized by more people than just marijuana users for a variety of reasons.

On April 20, cable channels including G4 and Comedy Central present a day of pot-inspired programming.

Fliers around USF advertise 4/20 parties at various nightclubs. Even some people who don’t smoke see it as a day to let loose.

“It’s the only day out of the year that I do smoke,” said one student. “It might be seen as just an excuse to get high, but what are holidays for if not excuses?”

She’s partially right. Christmas can be seen as just another reason to spend gross amounts of money and Halloween as an excuse to dress funny and eat candy all night. The only difference is that 4/20 celebrates something that led to more than 800,000 arrests in 2007, according to a report by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

For some, it is a day of protest against the illegality of the substance. The Connecticut chapter of NORML is holding a decriminalization rally.

Porter Meadow at the University of California, Santa Cruz is known for its annual April 20 celebrations, at which people gather by the thousands to smoke in mass protest. This year, the vice chancellor of UCSC sent out a mass e-mail warning students against participating in the event. In reply, a writer for the school’s student-run newspaper wrote that “smoking in Porter Meadow on April 20 is a part of UCSC culture” and that administrators just needed to accept it.

USF students might not be quite as loud in their support, but they aren’t afraid to talk about it under anonymity. Three students were asked about 4/20, and each had a different viewpoint.

The first student said, “It is a fake holiday celebrating an illegal substance. It means nothing to me because I don’t smoke and I never will. It is against the law and unhealthy.” The student was adamant in his disapproval of cannabis culture but still knew of the holiday.

The second student said he had been smoking marijuana for five years but didn’t care about the meaning of the holiday.

“It’s a day to get as high as possible,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how or why it started. It’s just one day out of the year when non-smokers smoke and when smokers just smoke even more.”

The third student said, “To me, 4/20 is much more than a day or a time to smoke — it’s a feeling or consciousness that unites people from a certain walk of life.”

Despite extensive research on the subject, marijuana’s effect on the human body is for the most part a mystery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is the most frequently used drug in the United States and nearly 98 million Americans over the age of 12 have used it.

Possession and distribution of the drug is illegal in the state of Florida.