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The 20th of April, also known as “420,” has become a day to celebrate weed in all of its many forms. But where did the nickname “420” come from? And does your average pot smoker actually pay homage to the holiday?

According to High Times, the official magazine for marijuana aficionados, a group of California high schoolers came up with the moniker in the early 1970s. One of the teens had been given a map to a weed patch planted by a Coast Guard member who’d gotten nervous and abandoned it, leaving it up for grabs. The crew made plans to meet up outside their school at 4:20 p.m. to search for the dank and unclaimed marijuana prize.

The crew, who started calling themselves “the Waldos,” apparently ran in the same circles as members of the Grateful Dead and used the phrase regularly to refer to weed. The band eventually popularized the usage of the phrase, the Waldos say, and the rest is history.

These days, 420 is celebrated like any other holiday. Jordan McCoy has worked at Zen Leaf at 1804 Maple St., the only dispensary in Evanston, for a year and a half.

He told the RoundTable that the store is celebrating the holiday with a 30% off sale for everything storewide.

“You know it’s just a big holiday. It’s been a big holiday for years. I think that now that weed is legal and stuff, you know, people are definitely going to be wanting to come around,” McCoy said.

He said their clientele are a lot of local college students and people from the Evanston area, including older couples who are coming in to “see what it’s all about.”

McCoy said most people trying marijuana for the first time seem to be in their mid-20s. He said edibles have gotten very popular at Zen Leaf.

“I just feel like we’re just, like, the neighborhood dispo,” he said.

Mari, who goes by the pronouns “they/them,” is a 23-year-old senior at Northwestern who was introduced to weed at the age of 16 but started smoking regularly in 2018.

Mari’s first real 420 celebrations happened when they visited Wesleyan University as an admitted potential student in the spring of 2017.

“They have a hill [at Wesleyan]. And everybody was just outside on the hill smoking weed. And so my first memory of 420 was, like, oh, communal smoke. And that 420 is a holiday to, like, really bring people together and celebrate this like medicine that we all have in common,” they said.

At Northwestern, Mari also has a lot of memories of gathering with friends for 420 smoking.

Mari said their favorite strain is Blue Dream because it’s the first strain they smoked and therefore has a nostalgic connection. This year, they plan to celebrate by linking with people in the Chicago marijuana industry and attending a night of networking and smoking with other business people in the cannabis industry.

Overall, Mari said they smoke pot as an act of resistance.

“I’ve seen how marijuana has been criminalized, and how many people are locked up for it. So for me, every time I take a hit, I feel like I’m taking a hit for people who are locked up, too, because I have the privilege, I have the freedom to be able to smoke this, knowing that there are so many people who can’t,” Mari said.

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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