Marketers capitalize on pot's high holiday

Massroots: The Instagram for marijuana users
Massroots: The Instagram for marijuana users   

Today, 4/20, is a very special day in the marijuana world. Even if you don't imbibe in any forms of the cannabis plant, saying that number—and it must be pronounced "four-twenty," not "four hundred twenty"—on this date, or any other, will illicit either a knowing nod, wink or smile or a blank stare and a "Huh?"

This year a number of clued-in marketers are rallying around 4/20— just as they might on St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, the 4th of July, Halloween or Christmas—with date-specific products and promotions. That's because April 20 has become the unofficial high holiday to celebrate all things marijuana. It's a phenomenon dating back to 1971 when a group of high-schoolers in San Raphael, California, met regularly at 4:20 p.m. to get high. As the number has worked its way into American popular culture, it's only natural that the business world has joined in on the fun.

For instance, Stone Brewing, a craft beer maker in Escondido, California, last month released a limited-time India Pale Ale dubbed "Enjoy by 4.20.15." While espousing a live-and-let-live attitude toward marijuana, CEO Greg Koch said of the IPA, "It's a fun tip of the hat to its botanical cousin because of the connection in the pot-smoking world and their hallowed holiday." After explaining the similarly dank aromatics of hops—a major ingredient in beer—and cannabis, Koch warns, "Don't brew with pot, and don't smoke hops."

Stone Brewing recently released a limited-time India Pale Ale dubbed "Enjoy by 4.20.15."
Stone Brewing Co.
Stone Brewing recently released a limited-time India Pale Ale dubbed "Enjoy by 4.20.15."

This is actually the third year in a row Stone Brewing has released its 4/20 potent potable, in kegs, 22-ounce bottles and, for the first time, six-packs. And for good reason. "It's our biggest release," Koch said. The private company reportedly had sales of about $130 million last year, making it the ninth-largest craft brewer in the country. "We received a very clear message from that world," he added about the special IPA's reception among stoners. "If I may quote, 'Duuuuude!'"

Dallas-based American Seed & Oil, a year-old producer of hemp, today begins selling on its website "Hempster" T-shirts made from that non-intoxicating variety of cannabis used in commercial applications. All sales for the next year will be donated to the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization lobbying to end the federal prohibition of marijuana and full legalization nationwide. The company announced the 4/20 sale at the end of March on its site, asking visitors to vote for their favorite of four designs. Requests to learn the winner were not answered.

For years, pot smokers around the U.S. have gathered publically on 4/20, from the Boston Commons to the University of California Santa Cruz, the crunchy campus that is not only officially located at 1156 High St. but also houses the archives of Grateful Dead, the band long renowned among potheads. Denver has been the site for more than a decade of 4/20 revelry, but this year locals are celebrating a year-plus since recreational pot became legal for adults in Colorado.

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MassRoots (OTC: MSRT), a Denver developer of a social media mobile app likened to Instagram, has paid $40,000 to become the headline sponsor of the 420 Rally downtown at the city's Civic Center Park this weekend. At press time the free music and cultural festival, which officials expect to draw around 25,000, will only be held on Saturday and Sunday. City laws don't allow for three-day gatherings, though organizers were trying to stretch the party into Monday.

"We'll have a two-story tent right in the middle of the park," said MassRoots CEO Isaac Dietrich. "We'll be handing out free slices of pizza to any person who shows us their MassRoots account." His goal is to sign up a large number of new users to its most current total of 275,000. The company is partnering with Uber, the app-based car service, to offer new registrants a free ride up to $40, Dietrich said. "Hopefully that helps cut down on smoking and driving."

The munchies is another ubiquitous occurrence among pot smokers, and Ben & Jerry's is releasing a new way to satiate that hunger today in its shops—with an ice-cream burrito called "Brrr-ito." While you may need to be stoned to make the connection between beans and pot, the rolled-up product itself resembles a fatty, as an extra-large joint is known. Ben & Jerry's is promoting the Brrr-ito via an online campaign that includes an ad spoofing Apple's famous "1984" spot.

PepsiCo's Mountain Dew has long been a favorite beverage of the young dude set that might seek remedies to the dry-mouth effect of smoking pot. Yet the company swears that it's only a coincidence that the Baja Blast variety of the lime-flavored soft drink is being re-released on 4/20. "It's quite speculative to say it was anything more than that," a spokeswoman noted. An April 9 a PepsiCo press release announced that Baja Blast would be hitting shelves nationwide on April 20, and numerous comments on Mountain Dew's Facebook page cheered the coincidental date. Even so, don't look for any Mountain Dew promotions on 4/20.

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Nor will there be marijuana-themed pastries being rolled out at 4 & Twenty Blackbirds Bakeshop in Guilford, Connecticut. "People connect our name to the nursery rhyme," said store owner Nancy Ackermann, referring to "Sing a Song of Sixpence," but not to pot. "Some high school kids say that 420 is the police call number" used when someone's caught smoking marijuana, she said.

Alas, that's just one of many debunked urban legends surrounding 4/20. They're the kind of funny stuff that will be giggled about—over a special beer, ice cream or soda—at precisely 4:20 this afternoon.

Get the latest from CNBC's new marijuana business series here. #WeedWeek

—By Bob Woods, CNBC.com