According to stoner lore, a group of high school students in 1970s San Rafael, California, liked to meet up to smoke weed after their last class of the day. They started using 4:20 as code for when they’d convene at a nearby stone wall to toke up.

Almost fifty years later, 4:20 has endured as slang for cannabis aficionados, not just as a way to acknowledge kindred spirits on the down-low, but now to openly identify all things open to weed, from potential dates and roommates to 420-friendly lodging on sites like AirBnb and

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, 420 celebrations around the country have been cancelled, like most other large gatherings. That's hardly dampened the spirits of weed enthusiasts and medical cannabis cardholders, however, who have been driving record sales in legal states during shelter-in-place and Safer at Home restrictions. Now cannabis fans are using inventive new ways to celebrate 4/20, the April holiday whose name came out of that long-ago California smoke sesh.

It’s not just the party crowd looking for a little at-home entertainment, either. In a time when nearly everyone’s nerves are on edge and most are trying to stay as healthy as possible, cannabis’ anti-anxiety properties, as well as efficacy for treating nausea, insomnia, epilepsy, chronic pain, and other conditions have led many legal states to designate cannabis dispensaries as essential services along with gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies. 4/20 is a chance not only to enjoy a communal mellow in trying times, but also for cannabis users and medical marijuana activists to celebrate varying levels of legality that now exist in over half the 50 states.

Three bicycle cops stand near an electronic billboard reading "Marijuana Laws Enforced" in front of the Colorado State Capitol Building in Civic Center Park in Denver. The trees are covered in purple spring blooms that mirror the reddish color of the paved sidewalk.
When Colorado legalized recreational cannabis in 2014, the first 420 Cannabis Culture Music Festival took place in Civic Center Park, despite public consumption still being banned © Blaine Harrington III via Getty Images

420 isn't completely cancelled

Cannabis fans have especially been looking forward to 4/20 this year – after all, it's not just April 20th but 4/20/2020, the most 420 day that ever 420'ed. Unfortunately for everyone who has been getting geared up for an epic puff-puff-pass with their friends, neighbors, and city-wide cannabis communities is that, like SXSW, Coachella, San Diego Comic-Con, and just about every other big event anyone was looking forward to this year, public revelry is off the table this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cities that usually host big, buoyant cannabis celebrations, including Denver and San Francisco, are actively discouraging revelers from leaving their homes to toke up in the spring sunshine – no matter how tempting that proposition might be.

London Breed, the mayor of San Fransisco, wrote on Twitter, "To be clear: 4/20 will not be tolerated this year. Do not come to San Francisco to celebrate. We will cite people. We will arrest people if necessary. Order food. Watch Netflix. Stay home and stay safe."

Meanwhile, the Mile High 420 Festival in Denver is considered the largest such event in the world, and has had tens of thousands of attendees in years past. But this year, organizers announced online that "FlyHi will follow the City of Denver's guidelines to reduce unnecessary public interaction. There are no immediate plans to reschedule as this virus continues to circulate."

420 Toronto took a similar approach, announcing as early as March 11th that there would be no event this year "due to the public health nature of the event." However, there is a chance that it may simply be postponed – the Facebook event page currently suggests July 4th may be an alternate date, depending on whether COVID-19 has abated.

You may also like: The complete guide to cannabis tourism in Portland, Oregon 

A manager at Tetra Private Lounge and Garden lights a joint. The flame illuminates her face and the wreath of white and grey smoke coming from the joint. Behind her is the comfortable, living-room like lounge area with big couches and doors leading to other parts of the club
Toking up at home is a necessity for most people celebrating 420 today © Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Celebrating 420 online

Like so much of public and social life in the age of coronavirus, 4/20 is going online this year. Individual smokers, canna-friendly organizations and celebrities are all planning big digital bashes to replace hotboxing parks in major metro areas. 

"With social distancing clouding up our plans, many of our provinces, media outlets, lounges and groups of individuals are creating the social sessions most of us truly need during this time," explained Debi C. of Toronto.

One such event is being hosted by 7Acres, a Canadian cannabis producer. Virtual Sesh – an event combining a live set of "cannabis-themed anthems" by DJ Mensa, standup comedy from Mike Rita, and a communal smoke session – on a digital platform you need to be at least 19 years old to access.

Then there's The Great American Sesh In featuring an assortment of headliners including B-Real, Too $hort, Tommy Chong, Citizen Cope, Rob Garza, Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction and Scott Page of Pink Floyd. The telethon-style event is benefiting COVID-19 first responders, and is hosted on Twitch, a platform popularized by e-sports players and their fans.

Walled Lake, Michigan - The Greenhouse medical marijuana dispensary.
Budtenders assist a customer at a Michigan dispensary © Alamy Stock Photo

Snoop Dogg is hosting his own live Smoke-In with a DJ set by Snoop himself and a digital drop of his album The Chronic, all on Instagram. Comedian Chelsea Handler is getting in on the fun, too, with a panel on Sex + Weed in Quarantine. And of course, it wouldn't be a weed party without Willie Nelson, who is hosting a 4 hour and 20 minute event Come & Toke It on Twitch.  

Plenty of cannabis fans are making their own fun, too. Science communicator Ada Marie McVean says she and her friends, who are spread out around the world, made an all-day 420 schedule to enjoy together, with time slots when each participant will be available to "game" and an evening time to eat pizza together. 

McVean also said she planned a special surprise for her boyfriend by ordering special food and cannabis treats to enjoy together – though she admits it was hard to sneak them into their shared home while social distancing together. 

And while restaurants and bars are largely closed due to coronavirus, a few fast food chains are offering specials, too, no doubt hoping to appeal to 4/20 celebrants with a case of the munchies. Del Taco is offering 10 tacos for $4.20 if customers order through their app, available for drive-thru, takeout, and home delivery. Blaze Pizza is running a special in which they upgrading guests to their thicker “High-Rise” dough for free. The offer is available through the Blaze Pizza app on 4/20, and is redeemable through 4/26, available for takeout or delivery.

At the end of the day, 420 is really about bringing people together over a shared interest and the communal nature of enjoying a good high together. It's also a celebration of the increasing acceptance of cannabis use after decades of stigma, prosecution, and incarceration. We could all use a little more togetherness and acceptance in these unprecedented times. And this year, many cannabis users agree, even if it means raising their pipes to their computer screens instead of puff-puff passing to the person next to them.

You may also like: The 7 best marijuana tours and experiences in the US

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