Malia Knapp celebrates the Denver 420 Rally with her friends at Civic Center in April 2012. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

What 4/20 means to me: Style writer remembers her first (and last) 4/20

For me, 4/20 is like most party-fueled holidays. It’s amateur hour.

It’s why I don’t really partake in these kinds of things. Last year’s big day spent in the Denver Mart parking lot to ensure entry and stay on standby for my “Rolling Papers” crew at the Cannabis Cup doesn’t count. (Full disclosure: I’m a producer on the documentary.) Without even entering the building, I was slightly shocked at the circus of it all.

But before I fully developed into Debbie Downer, I did experience my first and last 4/20, and it remains a perfect, untouched memory. Walk with me …

April 20, 2000: Burlington, Vermont

I was a freshman. I was in doubt. I was green. It was a pretty rough first-year at the University of Vermont, and come spring, I had already decided to transfer back to my home state of Ohio and attend Miami University the following fall.

Aside from a general awareness that 4/20 meant smoking pot, I had never officially observed the unofficial holiday. There was a buzz on campus in the weeks leading up to it: Who was skipping class, who was wearing what and who was getting weed. I was lucky enough to have my best friend from high school by my side as a fellow Catamount, and we were obviously going.

We were “Kate and Katie,” and we had come so far since our days of once smoking oregano we got tricked into buying, hitting a toilet paper roll in our friend Chrissy’s bathroom and taking our first bong rips at an epic no-parents party.

We were in one of the meccas of marijuana and ready to celebrate.

Armed with an eighth of our own (that we bought from the dude down the hall named “Kegger”) and a brand new bowl, we met up with a few other friends and headed straight for Redstone Campus. We arrived well before magic hour, the cloud and smell of smoke already apparent. As we made our way to the center of it all, our friend Sarah was stopped by a camera crew, who she told it was “one of the greatest days ever” only to get a call from her parents down in Rutland a few hours later after they spotted her on the nightly news.

We settled into a smoke circle among a sea of students, and I was in awe of what was happening around me. My favorite jam bands blaring, cool hippie chicks dancing, hot guys on guitar strolling, the New England sun shining, and of course, puffing, puffing and passing. I had never seen that many people come together for a shared love of cannabis and simultaneously smoking … ever.

To this day, whether legal or not, college campuses are still the purest form of 4/20 celebrations, uniting hopeful young co-eds through a date, time and vice. It’s exactly the essence of why the Grateful Dead adopted the term from the Waldos in 1971, which has clearly stuck.

Shortly after the chanted countdown to 4:20 p.m., our friends were long lost and Kate headed for her Abnormal Psychology class (for real), while I wandered back to my dorm room in Harris Millis Hall.

I was high. I was happy. I should have stayed where I belonged.