Cannabis culture used to be a counterculture, but in 2022, the use of cannabis and hemp is becoming increasingly mainstream. Where does that leave 420, the cultural holiday observed by cannabis users worldwide?
Recreational cannabis is currently legal in 18 states and Washington, DC, and the 420 holiday is becoming more commercialized. Meanwhile, more than 40,000 people in the U.S. are languishing in prison on nonviolent cannabis offenses, and every 90 seconds, someone in the U.S. is arrested for cannabis.
House of Wise recognizes that it is a privilege to profit from the sale of hemp products, and we believe that it's our moral obligation to help combat cannabis-related incarcerations. Keep reading to learn more about the 420 holiday, its origins, and how you can use April 20 as a time to take action.
The Origins of 420
Ask a cannabis user how we arrived at 420, and often the answer you'll hear is that the number "420" was a state police or penal code for marijuana. Therefore, 4:20 and 4/20 became the unofficial time and dates to celebrate. However, there is no solid evidence to support that claim. More likely, we will never know the actual origins of 420, though over the years, experts have tried to get to the bottom of it.
Pictured: Luna Lovebad; Photo by Emily Eizen
One of the most common theories is that the number originated in California. In a 2009 New York Times article, former High Times editor Steven Hager said that the significance of 420 "dates to a ritual begun in the early 1970s in which a group of Northern California teenagers smoked marijuana every day at 4:20 p.m." The ritual spread by word of mouth, and soon, 420 became the code for marijuana in conversation and on concert fliers. Phrases like "420 friendly" are still used today to set expectations for events and lodging.
Another theory is that 420 originated in a 1939 short story by H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling called "In the Walls of Eryx." The story describes "curious mirage-plants" that resemble cannabis; the narrator experiences a psychoactive high and looks at his watch around 4:20.
Whatever the origins, cannabis users around the globe share their enthusiasm on and offline for this cultural "holiday" through social media posts and large-scale gatherings.
420 and the Modern Cannabis Landscape
While many cannabis and CBD users feel celebratory on 420, we're reframing April 20 as a day to focus on social justice and cannabis reform. We work closely with the nonprofit Last Prisoner Project to elevate the stories of nonviolent cannabis offenders and raise money for its Family Support Fund.
In a letter from prison, Edwin Rubis, a Last Prisoner Project constituent, described what 420 means to him. "Cannabis enthusiasts will celebrate 4/20 around the world," says Rubis, who is serving 40 years in federal prison for a nonviolent marijuana offense. "In America, thousands will toke up with their friends in their respective states where cannabis is legal. Marijuana businesses will take advantage of the holiday to sell and market their products."
"Not me. I'll be going through the same rigorous, monotonous routine I've gone through for the past 8,760 days, waking up to see fences upon fences topped with coiled razor wire and gun sentries, reminding me of the place I've been condemned to live in until God knows when."
Sadly, stories like Rubis's are not at all uncommon. Thirteen days before Humberto Diaz was sentenced to seven years in New Jersey, voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis in his state. Stephanie Shepard, whose father died while she was locked up, was released from prison in California in 2019 and greeted by dispensaries that looked like Apple Stores. Sean and Eboni Worsley lost five years and thousands of dollars over a mere 10 grams of cannabis. Although Sean — a decorated and disabled veteran — had a medical marijuana card in his home state of Arizona, the couple was charged with a Class C felony while driving through Alabama.
How You Can Take Action
If you are feeling motivated to make a difference this 420, you can donate directly to Last Prisoner Project or purchase our limited-edition Justice For All Gummy Sampler Box. All proceeds from sales of the sampler box will benefit Last Prisoner Project’s Family Support Fund and Sean and Eboni Worsley as they focus on trauma healing and rebuilding.
These limited-edition product packages were designed by multimedia artist and cannabis industry activist Emily Eizen. The limited-edition box features art and design by Eizen, inspired by the Worsleys story. The design incorporates a camouflage print to represent Sean's military service, with elements of purple to highlight Sean's Purple Heart, green to show gratitude to the help he gets from medical cannabis, and pink to represent Eboni and the other strong women in his life.
We're also auctioning off an NFT, also created by Eizen. The single, unique edition will be available for bidding on House of Wise's OpenSea marketplace through 4:20 p.m. ET on April 20, 2022. The majority of the proceeds from the Justice For All NFT will benefit Last Prisoner Project.
Finally, join us in signing petition urging the Biden Administration to create a Presidential Cannabis Clemency Board. (Take action by adding your name.)
The Presidential Cannabis Clemency Board — which should be staffed with individuals with lived and/or professional expertise — would be tasked exclusively with helping administer pardons and commutations to people with federal cannabis-related convictions. The board would also provide data, insights, and learnings necessary for a more expansive use of this approach.
"Not only would this effort provide much-needed relief for the thousands of individuals with federal cannabis-related convictions," says Stephen Post, Campaign Strategist at Last Prisoner Project, "but it would also serve as an example for state authorities, who can use their power to grant retroactive relief to exponentially more people."