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What Employers Should Know About 4/20

Read Time: 3.5 mins.

Ever thought of 4/20 and how it relates to spring? Have you ever heard of the holiday (as some call it), 4/20?

You probably agree that spring signals the freshness of new life for many. After a long cold winter, it’s time to enjoy some warmer weather and all that Mother Nature has to offer.

But for a growing number of people, it also means a chance to celebrate an important holiday 4/20, otherwise known as “Weed Day.”

In case you’re unfamiliar with the meaning of 4/20, we’ll bring you up to speed!

Although the origins of 4/20 are debatable, the most credible story is that it came about as a result of five high students from San Rafael High School, in Marin County, CA in the early 70s.

The students would meet each day by the campus’ statue of the chemist, Louis Pasteur, to share a smoke, at precisely 4:20 p.m. because school extracurricular activities had ended by this time.

The “Waldo’s” as they were nicknamed, would use the code “420” to signal it was time to partake in sharing a marijuana joint. Little did this young group of lawbreakers know at the time, but they were creating a popular anti-establishment movement around the world for future generations.

One of the Waldo’s had a brother who worked as a roadie for Grateful Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh, and it’s been said the band had a role in making the term 4/20 go mainstream.

In December of 1990, a group of Oakland “Deadheads” handed out flyers to invite people to smoke weed on April 20, at 4:20 p.m.

This tradition was quickly picked up by former High Times Magazine reporter, Steve Bloom, and was later printed as a flyer in 1991, referencing 4/20. Now, 4/20 is forever known worldwide as the code for smoking marijuana and celebrating the cannabis culture on April 20th every year.

Modern-day 4/20 activities

Modern-day participants in 4/20 can find information everywhere about how to get the most out of the experience. High Times Magazine and Leafly publish guides on How to Plan the Ultimate 4/20.

Time Out New York lists the top 4/20 events to attend in NYC. Happy Travelers Tours even specializes in taking people to the best cannabis events around the nation in one of their special tours.

Even social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, are buzzing with references to 4/20 friendly locations and celebrations. Some notable 4/20 activities include:

  • Finding a great place to eat with friends
  • Taking a road trip to a city where cannabis is legal
  • Enjoying a live show or concert outside
  • Partaking in a creative activity, like painting or woodwork
  • Attending a festival or event

Whether you participate or not, 4/20 is continuing to grow in momentum as more states legalize cannabis, or push for it to become legal for recreational use.

Employer strategies for managing 4/20

As an employer, what is your stance on 4/20? It really can depend on two things:

1. Does your state recognize the legal use of marijuana?
2. Does your workplace have policies that prohibit employees from being under the influence of marijuana?

Current federal laws under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana to be a Schedule I illegal drug under Title 21. This means it is illegal to possess, manufacture, distribute, sell and use.

Marijuana is, however, legal for recreational use in 10 states and medical use in 33 states. So, it’s important to determine what the laws say about your state.

If you’re in a state where recreational use is legal, it’s still a good idea to set some ground rules. Of course, even in a cannabis-legal state, you may still issue a written policy that prohibits the use of cannabis products during work hours and the procedures taken if an employee is determined to be under the influence of marijuana when at work.

Procedures are for everyone’s safety really. It’s the same rules that apply to road travel, where driving while intoxicated can be dangerous. Let employees know that if they must celebrate 4/20, they may do so by scheduling the day off in advance and participating in a safe manner.

If you are in a workplace that’s in a state where it’s illegal to possess and use marijuana, state this in your policy as well. Let employees know that not only is it prohibited by your state, but that you, as the employer, reserve the right to conduct random drug testing and to take disciplinary actions, up to and including suspension with rehabilitation or termination.

When it comes to medical marijuana use, employers still have the right to state in the policy that it cannot take place during work hours due to safety reasons, but that company and physician approved employees are not subject to suspension/termination.

In the workplace itself, there may be evidence that employees are planning something for 4/20. You have the right to remove any offensive or illegal posters, art, flyers, and other materials from the workplace.

To foster goodwill with employees, ask first rather than tearing them down. As an example, don’t be afraid to politely send employees home to change if they come to work dressed in drug-related clothing.

You may not be able to stop employees from going out there and participating on 4/20 with their friends, but as an employer, it is up to you to set expectations for what happens in the workplace.

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