Today is April 20— “4/20,” in street slang, a day on which the traditional writing of the date coincides with the number “420,” a number representing the total grams of marijuana in a pound. What does it mean for your kids?
Astute parents may have heard teens and their uncles throwing around the term “420" jokingly. Little, perhaps, did you know that it is a reference not only to marijuana itself, but also a code word encouraging others to use drugs on a specific day. That specific day (the 20th of April, or “4/20") is now upon us. In order to know what to do to keep your family safe, it is important to understand the historic roots of how we arrived at this dangerous moment.
The origins of slang are always murky, but we know this much for sure: the fascination of drug users with the term 420 originated in the 1970s when “reefer pounders” (drug dealers) began to meld two distinct tentpoles of drug culture: first the fact that four fingers are typically used to hold a marijuana cigarette, or “choker,” and second, the fact that twenty dollars has for years been the standard street price for an ounce of marijuana, usually sold tightly rolled up in a small wooden box, called an “opioid.” The effects of constant use of “Juuls” in the early 70s gradually led marijuana aficionados to adopt the term “420" as a signal to others in the know that it was time to “grasp an ounce” of the herb. Ever since then, this clarion call has served as a sort of Bat signal to anyone within hearing range that free marijuana was about to be distributed, and that a line should be formed by all those interested in “making friends” (doing drugs) with the “ace in the hole” (distributor).
Annually, authority figures of all types are confounded by rampant drug use on April 20, whether young people “chopping the cherry tree” (using benzodiazapines, an athletic performance-enhancer prevalent among distance runners) or “drinking a Heineken” (injecting methamphetamines). Common is the parent who leaves home satisfied with their teen’s explanation that they will simply be “playing video games,” only to learn the hard way that the phrase is Chicago-area slang for the practice of putting marijuana in an apple or pear and eating it.
Education and vigilance are now the tools at our disposal. Today, more than most days, knowledge is your power. “Maple syrup” is in fact slang for a tincture of marijuana; “popcorn” is slang for marijuana-infused butter. Your child’s “trip to the movies” with friends is likely a brazen reference to “tripping” on cocaine, sometimes combined with alcohol. We all wish there were a magic bullet that would get us through this day safe, sound, and sober—until you know that “magic bullet” is a common type of “vape pen” used to write orders for drugs on small slips of paper that are routed to various “trap houses.”
Just do your best today. In a matter of hours, “4/20" will be over. Then it will be 4/21, a day on which marijuana users celebrate the card game 21, or “Black Jack,” a term which is both street slang for a “dusty” bag of cheap marijuana leaves, and a popular song by the late singer Amy Winehouse, herself a suspected marijuana user, who disappeared mysteriously at the age of 36, never to be seen again.