For at least some parts of the population, today marks a significant date on the calendar: April 20, otherwise known as 4/20, otherwise known as the day set aside to celebrate cannabis culture - or, perhaps, smoke pot.
There are several theories as to why 4-20 has become associated with marijuana, but whatever the story is, the number has become a code for the drug, a euphemism to describe partaking in what is still an illegal activity.
Currently, marijuana is not legal anywhere in Canada, as it is considered a controlled substance under the "Controlled Drugs and Substances Act". Most police officers are hesitant to enforce the law, however: even at 4-20 rallies where marijuana is being smoked openly, the police say they are only present to ensure the safety of the attendees. Toronto's Marijuana Rally, for instance, has never led to an arrest for a cannabis offence in the five years it's taken place.
4-20 is not the only code word for marijuana, of course: Drug culture is filled with insider terms, and in recognition of 4-20, we recall one that once got past the gatekeepers of one of TV's most wholesome programs. In 1971, the Lawrence Welk Show aired a singing performance by the duo Gail & Dale that may have had some inappropriate content:
According to the website Legends Revealed, the song was taken from an album by folk singers Brewster and Shipley. The producers were apparently unaware of the meaning of the term "toke", and included it in the show's lineup as a "modern day spiritual".
Of course, in spite of the fact that 4-20 has become a punch line in recent years, cannabis is not always a laughing matter. Repeated use of the drug has been linked to depression and psychosis, and its negative effects could pose greater risk to young people.
Meanwhile, the drug's use as a medicinal substance, and the campaign to have it decriminalized, has become complicated as a result of the Obama administration's arm's-length approach to the issue. In the U.S., many states have seen a recent crackdown on medical marijuana users, with the chief result being legal uncertainty on the part of state governments, advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
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