Can an Officially Sanctioned 4/20 Be Far Behind?

The case for America’s completely secular High Holiday.

As a general matter, there is little to applaud and much to deplore about the debasement and distortion beyond recognition of what constitutes an American holiday—the cluttering of the calendar with faux festivities such as National Talk Like Shakespeare Day, National Picnic Day, National Lost Dogs Awareness Day, National Take a Chance Day, and National Cherry Cheesecake Day (all of which, it should be noted, occur this Thursday). Indeed there are thousands of such trumped-up “national designations” in existence now: some banal, some funny, most driven by the imperatives of corporate marketing … and all utterly meaningless.

But there is one unofficial holiday that transcends the genre. The holiday that happens to be taking place right now. The holiday known as 4/20.

The salient differences that set 4/20 apart from other holidays unsanctioned by the federal government or any established religion are many and glaring. It has been embraced actively, ardently, by countless people of good will (and capacious lungs) across the country. It arose organically and spread surreptitiously to become a thing. And it is, as far as I know, the only holiday whose celebration requires—in 46 states, at least—the commission of a crime.

After years of being clouded by urban legend, the origins of the term “4/20” have at last been nailed down (which is to say, as nailed down as any story can be when the primary sources are thoroughly stoned.) And the cultural resonance of 4/20-the-holiday is undeniable. According to the music-streaming behemoth Spotify, some 40,000 4/20-themed playlists have been created by its users worldwide. The top three states for such playlists: California (duh), Texas, and New York (yessir). Seventy-five percent of the playlists were compiled by men—including two musical giants (Willie Nelson; Method Man) and one enthusiastic pygmy. But there are plenty of women who are in on the act, too. (Here’s the top 100 tracks mined from “4/20” playlists created by females in the United States. Lists available in full at the bottom of this post.)

The mainstreaming of 4/20 as a phenomenon is but one reflection of the vast social shift that has taken place around marijuana in the past decade—and which, in turn, has enormous political and legal implications. According to our latest Bloomberg Politics national poll, fully 58 percent of Americans believe pot will be legal nationwide in the next 20 years. A recent Quinnipiac poll of three swing states (Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) found slim majorities favoring the legalization of weed altogether, and majorities in excess of 80 percent in support of legalizing it for medical use. 

In a professional lifetime of covering politics—and watching this issue closely for various, ahem, idiosyncratic reasons—the only shift in public opinion that I’ve seen that’s been comparably dramatic is the one about gay marriage. Both have been driven (and will continue to be driven) by demographics: by the fact that, for most young Americans, both same-sex marriage and the consumption of cannabis seem benign and unremarkable. In the case of marijuana, the engine pushing America toward legalization is also economic: As more and more states discover the revenue-raising potential of regulating and taxing weed, the logic of legalization will, I suspect, become increasingly ineluctable.

Among the many reasons to cheer this outcome—the end to the insanity of incarcerating many thousands of non-violent drug offenders, the implicit societal admission that the harm caused by marijuana use pales beside that inflicted by alcohol abuse, the triumph of a sliver of rationality in the public sphere—maybe the less significant but most delightful is the possibility that 4/20 might be one day be a bona fide national holiday. Or at least as much a holiday as Mother’s or Valentine’s Day. The greeting-card industry might not see the upside. But the backers of National Cherry Cheesecake Day surely will. 

It’s All Going to Pot: Willie’s 4/20 Reserve

 Smoking With Method Man

 John Heilemann’s 20 (+1) for 4/20

The XX High: Top 100 4/20 Tracks, According to Women in the United States


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