Cannabis Culture and the Meaning of 420

By WeedWeek Jun 26, 2020

Cannabis culture is all about consuming marijuana. Global in scope, this movement means different things to different people, ranging from recreation, religion, and medication. While there is no exact definition, the idea of cannabis culture stems from the belief that using cannabis, enhances life and provides users with an improved sense of wellbeing, awareness, and contentedness.

What is Cannabis Culture? 

Cannabis culture is varies in different locales but is generally uniform when it comes to the cannabis user’s attitude toward the plant and how it affects their life. 

The notion of cannabis culture is ever-evolving, always growing and adapting to new laws and trends. For people around the world that consume cannabis on a regular basis, the sense of inclusion within the culture, whether the user is even aware or not, makes it possible to feel a part of something bigger. This inclusion can help connect people from different backgrounds and beliefs, bridging gaps in ways that other commodities simply can’t. 

Cannabis Culture: What is 420?

420 is slang for the consumption of cannabis. The expression 420 has become used at an international level as a way to communicate that it is time to get high. 

Within segments of the cannabis culture, it’s a given that people will smoke at 4:20 in the afternoon, and April 20th has become a day synonymous with consuming copious amounts of cannabis. It’s very common to find smoking paraphernalia and “stoner gear” that uses the number 420 as part of the branding and design. However, 420 can be used anytime of the day as an indicator that it is time to smoke

Cannabis Culture: What is the History of 420? 

None of the Waldos could have ever imagined that their code for getting high would turn into a global phenomenon. The Waldos were a group of friends at a California high school in the early 1970s. All athletes, the group would remind each other in the halls about “420 Louis”, which was code to meet at a nearby statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 to smoke weed after practice. 

They eventually dropped ‘Louis’ from the name and it caught on with other kids in the school. It was a way to communicate with friends without the fear of their parents catching on. 

But it wasn’t until their friendship with the Grateful Dead and the band’s inner circle that term 420 became synonymous with smoking weed. From the backstage area of Dead shows and into the Dead Head community, the slang spread like fire. 

Cannabis Culture Around the World

Cannabis is truly an international plant, transcending all borders, from the physical to the geopolitical. This is why cannabis culture has found its way into the homes and hearts of people around the world, and has done so for thousands of years. Below is a glimpse into various cannabis cultures from around the globe.  


India’s love affair with cannabis may have begun, somewhat ironically, with invaders – the Indo-Europeans. Beginning in the second millennium BC, this nomadic culture was thought to have brought weed with them as they travelled from central Asia into the Indian subcontinent. Ganja, one of the many names weed goes by in countries around the world, is the Hindi word for cannabis flowers. This indicates the profoundly influential relationship India has had on global perception and use of the plant. Cannabis is also incorporated into the Hindu religion: Lord Shiva, one of three principal gods, enjoyed marijuana for relaxation purposes and to improve meditation. 

Cannabis culture continues to be popular in many places throughout India, despite the drug being widely illegal. Bhang, a popular form of edible cannabis products, is commonly available, served in milkshakes and other products such as lassi. 


In Jamaica, ganja is closely tied with Rastafari. To begin to understand this religious movement, one must look at the history and social conditions in Jamaica, steeped in struggles against oppression and white supremacy. Jamaica first came to be inhabited by Africans in the 16th century after they were forcibly brought to the island by the British as slaves. The British also brought Indian laborers to Jamaica, who shared their ganja liberally with Africans. Needless to say, it was well received. 

Though truly a collective movement, the Rastafari faith was ignited by a man named Leonard Percival Howell in the 1930s.  Like many others, Howell advocated for Pan-Africanism, the solidarity and empowerment of people of African descent regardless of their locations in the world. Birthed as a political, religious and spiritual movement in opposition to the ongoing legacies of slavery and racism, Rastafari values revolve around living well and righteously. 

Rastarafi regard cannabis as a sacred herb, due in part to references in the Bible. Marijuana is used in communal meetings, called groundings, where philosophical matters are discussed. Groundings comprise an important part of Rastafari practice, since these meetings help build understanding and goodwill among practitioners. In the faith, cannabis is considered healthy for the mind, body and spirit. 

Today, though it may seem incredible given Jamaica’s international reputation regarding cannabis, the Jamaican government continues to consider weed illegal. However, in recent years restrictions have been loosened somewhat. 

United States

The United States has had an extremely fraught relationship with cannabis culture, especially since the early 20th century. The so-called ‘war on drugs,’ initiated by President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, centered around marijuana use in order to demonize, and incarcerate, black people, Mexican immigrants, and people of color across the country. 

Black people in particular have suffered the brunt of these racist policies, being arrested at a rate of almost four times as high as whites despite roughly equivalent usage. At present, widespread decriminalization and legalization efforts are underway in states across the country, in part to curb these discriminatory and devastating laws.

Despite it all, however, cannabis continued to have an undeniably outsized impact within various sub-cultures in the United States. Below are three of the major movements closely associated with cannabis culture: 


This term refers to the Beat Generation, a literary movement in the late 1950’s and early sixties that espoused an anti-materialistic, anti-capitalistic, anti-authoritarian and anti-racism ethos. Typified by the beret and goatee beard, Beatniks saw cannabis as a way explore inner psychological realms.  


For the hippie movement of the 1960s, Cannabis was one of several psychoactive drugs which played a prominent part in the hippie movement of the 1960s. Hippies were flower children, who famously advocated for peace and love, and experimented widely with LSD, magic mushrooms, and other hallucinogens. 

Hip Hop

The 1990’s saw a resurgence of cannabis culture in the U.S. Cypress Hill’s debut album and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic helped kick off the hip hop community’s embrace of marijuana in all its forms. Since then, the two have been pretty much inseparable. Rapper Snoop Dogg became arguably the country’s most popular stoner, and the herb became integrated into many aspects of American culture, including movies such as Half Baked.    

Why Marijuana Is Allowed In Many Countries?   

There are many reasons behind the increasing legalization of cannabis in countries throughout the world. One of the primary driving forces in places like Uruguay and Mexico is to decrease crime by replacing supply chains run by mafias and illegal gangs with government-sanctioned industries. 

Other countries are more focused on the demand-side. After facing a troubling number of drug-related deaths, Portugal decriminalized illegal drugs in 2001, a move that was met with much scrutiny at the time. However, drug mortality rates plummeted soon thereafter, accounting for 4 deaths per million in 2017, as compared with the rest of Europe which stands at 22 deaths per million. 

Ultimately, it’s increasingly understood that the war on drugs simply doesn’t work.

US Marijuana Legalization Statistics   

As of 2020, there are 36 states in the U.S. that have legalized marijuana for medical use. By some estimates, federal legalization could potentially save upwards of $7 billion dollars each year – money that is currently being spent in part on policing cannabis offenders. 

If that number seems like a lot, that’s because it is. A wide array of studies have suggested legalization could save money at the local, state and federal level while generating substantial tax revenue. Totally legalizing marijuana would also have support from the American public. Surveys consistently finding that two thirds of Americans support legalization. 

International Day For Cannabis-related Protests And Events   

While 4/20 still reigns supreme in the United States, the Global Marijuana March (GMM) is an international day for pro-cannabis events and protests. Held on the first Saturday of May, the GMM is a day of great significance for global cannabis culture. Events take place in countries including Canada, Brazil, Denmark, New Zealand, France, and elsewhere. Thousands of people turn out for these peaceful expressions of support for cannabis culture and the plant that has a side-effect of bringing people together. 


Cannabis culture has taken root in countries as varied as India, Jamaica, and more recently, the United States. People around the world have long celebrated and enjoyed smoking Mary Jane with friends, to inspire creativity or as an act of resistance. No matter the reason, 420 can be a time to kick back and peacefully celebrate the joy that cannabis can bring.