As school counselors, it is our part of our job to be aware of any cultural phenomena that impact our students and schools.  The month of April is full of fun events and experiences for students including spring break, prom, and student awards that divert our attention on getting ready for these events. A couple of years ago, I was personally made aware of a cultural phenomenon that occurs in April in which school staff are often oblivious.  This cultural phenomenon is not new and emerged in the 1970s as a social time for students to gather and “relax”. What is this old phenomenon that has reemerged in our school culture today? The phenomenon is known as 420 or forty twenty.

What is the significance of 420?

To define cultural terminology, I frequently visit the Urban Dictionary as it is often updated by youth.  So, to get a culturally accurate definition of the term 420, I went to this source.

The contributors of the Urban Dictionary give a historical and practical definition of the term 420.  Apparently, the term 420 was created by a group of teens called the “Waldos” in 1971 from San Rafael High School. The group of teens used the term 420 to indicate what time they would meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur to smoke marijuana. The story of the history of 420 was furthered investigated by the Huffington  Post. According to the Huff Post, one of the parents of the Waldos was involved with the band The Grateful Dead and the term was used in the band.  As the band toured during the 70s and 80s, the term was used among the The Dead underground.  A magazine called, High Times, got a hold of the term and the rest is history.  In fact, the High Times bought rights to the domain and has sponsored many global cannabis related activities. Eventually, 420 evolved into National Pot Smoking Day.  Here are some quotes to show the importance of 420 for some participants.

Infamous Spot of the Waldo Boys

Post in 2010.

Quotes from Urban Dictionary…

“420 is april 20 the day to smoke your best bud, or national pot smoking day. It all started with a bunch of teenagers called the Waldos.”

“stoners mental math 4+20 = 420…. lets go smoke.”
“One of the many names for weed. Its mainly in reference to time. But theres also April 20th.

Its 4:20, gota hit that bowl.”

“I cant wait til 4/20,(april 20th) Im gona be stoned off my a^*.”
“Best holiday(which is today, april 20th)!”
“4-20! National Smoke Out Day.”

Urban Dictionary of 420
420 Meaning: The True Story Of How 420 Became “Weed Day”

Why Should We Be Concerned About Marijuana Use Today?

Medical science has found many concerns about the growing marijuana use among adolescents.  Since today’s marijuana is 20 times more potent than the marijuana of their grandparents in the 60s, the chemicals (resources estimate over 400 chemicals) can cause a faster and more incredible high. The desire to use marijuana is often centered around this high as it overstimulates part of the neural communication network causing pleasure, altered perception and mood, and euphoria.  

There are many ways that marijuana can be ingested by the smoker to get that artifical high.  One way to consume marijuana is to smoke it in a hand rolled cigarette called a “joint”, water pipes called “bongs”, or cigars filled with tobacco and marijuana called “blunts”. A second way to consume marijuana is to brew its concentrated form, hashish, into teas or bake it in goods like brownies or add it to spreads, like butter. Caution!  Hashish, a byproduct of marijuana, is very potent and dangerous to manufacture. 

Popular culture often portrays marijuana use as harmless and fun.  Some of these counter culture heroes are Cheech & Chong, Harold & Kumer, Jeff Spicoli (Fast Times at Ridgemont High); musicians like Lil Wayne (Cali Dro), Rhianna (frequently smokes), Lady Gaga (promotes legalization of marijuana and uses it for creativity), and Snoop Dog (need I say more?); and stars from the show “Weeds”. Pop culture has glamorized the use of marijuana showing that it is good for

I wondered if Spicoli ever graduated?

relationships, creativity, and your social life. Contrary to popular culture, marijuana has a dark side. According to a longitudinal study out of New Zealand, people who used marijuana heavily as teens lost an average of 8 IQ points between the age of 13 to 38. Other health concerns of marijuana use includes the risk of heart attack one hour after using the drug because of elevated heart rates; marijuana has been linked to mental health problems like suicidal ideations, depression, and panic attacks; marijuana contributes to impairment when operating equipment like cars or machinery.

Drug Facts-Marijuana
Drug Facts for Teens

Now that you are aware of the history of 420, it is important that as school counselors that we educate students, staff, and parents about the dangers for growing adolescents who are seduced by the temptation to experiment with marijuana because it seems popular. Even students who do not typically smoke marijuana tend to participate in this event on April 20th @ 4:20 am or pm. 


What the concerns of 420:

  • Increased traffic fatalities (look at the evidence from Colorado)

Data: Fatalities Involving Driver with Positive Drug Test 2006-2011
Crash Year
Fatalities by Driver with Positive Drugs (Includes Cannabis)
Fatalities by Driver with Positive Cannabis
Total Statewide Fatalities
Percentage of Total Fatalities (All Drugs)
Percentage Total Fatalities (Cannabis)


Colorado Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) 2006-2011
  • Increased marijuana use by adolescents (um, Colorado statistics again)
Statistics involving youth from ages 12-17 (2011):
  • National average of marijuana use is 7.64%
  • Colorado average of marijuana us is 10. 72%

Colorado ranks 5th in marijuana use among youth.

Colorado Youth Marijuana Use 

  • Increased suspension from marijuana use  (okay, Colorado rules)

 Colorado schools have more suspensions due to marijuana use than alcohol or misbehavior.

You Tube Video-CNN Report Marijuana Use by Youth in Colorado 

How to educate parents and staff?  

School counselors can provide education, empowerment, and encouragement to parents and staff members as a defense against the misconceptions about marijuana use.  Unfortunately, many parents, staff members, and school counselors often get a lot of misinformation from other professionals, the media, and popular culture.

1.  Tell adults they are important influence on drug use.

2.  Know the laws in their state about marijuana use.

3. Know the facts about marijuana use.

4. Provide tangible information.

 The Blunt Truth About Pot  

What Parents Need to Know about 420

Delaying Introduction to Marijuana Presentation 

Brochure for Parents by the Catalyst Coalition
Brochure for Teens by the Catalyst Coalition

Here is a thoughtful quote from one of the Waldos about marijuana use…

“I’ve got to run a business. I’ve got to stay sharp,” says Steve, explaining why he rarely smokes pot anymore. “Seems like everybody I know who smokes daily, or many times in a week, it seems like there’s always something going wrong with their life, professionally, or in their relationships, or financially or something. It’s a lot of fun, but it seems like if someone does it too much, there’s some karmic cost to it.”

Additional Resources


Catalyst Coalition-Great resource with videos, resources, power points, and information for school officials.
Advancing Marijuana Prevention Through Social Norm Change
Resources on Marijuana Prevention
National Alliance for Marijuana Prevention
Drug Free World-Marijuana Video
National Drug Fact Chat, January, 2015 
National Drug Fact 2014 Transcript 
SAMSHA- What Is Substance Abuse Treatment: A Booklet for Families 

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