The History of 4/20, a Stoner's Christmas

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Legal cannabis enthusiasts across the world recognize April 20th as being a holiday to get holi-baked, but there are few that know the reason that 420 came to be associated with cannabis. Almost every smoker you ask will give you a different answer, from it being Hitler's birthday to it being the standard police code for illegal cannabis use.

There are plenty of hazy recollections of once-heard yarns about the origin of 4/20. Though many of these roots are fantastic tales, they tend to overshadow the true coining of the term. Before we get into the story behind 420, let's take a look at the false origins of a stoner's favorite day of the year. Strap in, because these jump all over the board.

What is it NOT?

  1. 420 is NOT a police radio code for people smoking cannabis.

A common misconception is that the term "420" started due to the police force. Many cannabis enthusiasts believe that 420 was the code used by cops to denote the illegal use of cannabis. However, that is not the case. Though, it would make stoner comedies more interesting if you saw smokers running from cops screaming "Code 420!"

  1. 420 is NOT the number of chemical compounds in cannabis.

Another common theory for the root of 420 is that it is the number of chemical compounds in cannabis. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There are actually 483 compounds in the cannabis plant.

  1. 420 is NOT the date of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, or Jimmy Hendrix' deaths.

Many smokers reference 420 as being the day of some famous cannabis enthusiast's death. Despite being big supporters of cannabis, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimmy Hendrix did not die on the infamous cannabis holiday.

  1. 420 is NOT teatime in Holland.

This one is a little strange. One of the less-heard misconceptions about the origin of 420 is it is the time of day that the country best known for loving cannabis stops to have tea. Needless to say, this is not the reason 420 is the weed-lover's Christmas. 

  1. 420 is NOT originally from a Bob Dylan song.

Many older smokers believe that the term 420 was originally from a Bob Dylan song. The king of stoner music may have said "everybody must get stoned" in his popular hit, "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35," but the claim that the multiplication of 12 and 35 led to the creation of the term 420 is a little absurd. However, it does make for a great story to tell the younger generations of cannabis enthusiasts.

There are a ton of explanations for the creation of 4/20, but very few know the true start of this stoner extravaganza. It is time to uncover the truth behind 420.

True Origin of the Holidaze

The true beginnings of the term "420" are far more commonplace than most stoners like to believe. Smokers worldwide hold a type of sentimentality for April 20th, and because of this emotional tie, they will gladly accept basically any extravagant, yet plausible, explanation for its origin. 99.9% of the stories that go around about the coining of 420 are completely wrong! The truth of the matter is that 420 began with five California teens who just wanted to find a secret grow out in the forest. 

Five student athletes at a San Rafael high school are the reason behind 420. These students, named the Waldos thanks to their favorite meeting spot at a wall outside the school, heard stories of a secret crop of cannabis hidden in the woods by a Coast Guard member. And in the fall of 1971, armed with a treasure map (presumably attained from the grower himself), the Waldos set out to find the secret pot field.

The Waldos met at least once a week to search for the elusive abandoned field. In order to remind each other when and where to meet, they used the phrase – you guessed it – "420." According to one of the original members of the Waldos, Steve Capper, they would say "4:20-Louis" to each other as they passed in the halls. The group met at the Louis Pasteur statue on the school grounds at 4:20 (after practice) to embark on their grand quest. They eventually dropped "Louis," but the iconic numbers remained.

The Waldos never did end up finding the abandoned grow, but word of their adventures spread like wildfire thanks to the Grateful Dead, a popular band for cannabis enthusiasts. Members of the Waldos had open access and multiple connections to the band. Dave Reddix’s older brother was good friends with Dead bassist Phil Lesh and managed a Dead sideband and Mark Gravitch’s father managed the Dead’s real estate.

According to Capper, the Waldos used to hang out backstage when the Grateful Dead played at a venue called Winterland. He said that they would constantly run around and on stage, touting their signature phrase. And just like that, the phrase spread like wildfire throughout the "deadhead" community. But that does not explain how it became the go-to phrase for potheads all around the world. For that, we have to turn to HighTimes editor, Steven Bloom.

Bloom first heard "420" was during Christmas week 1990 at a Grateful Dead show in Oakland, California. Bloom was wandering through the crowd of pot-smoking hippies when someone handed him a flyer that said, "We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais." Bloom latched onto the phrase and used his position with HighTimes to catapult 420 worldwide.

The Future of 420

Today, 420 is the most commonly referenced phrase when it comes to the legal cannabis industry. California's medical marijuana bill was even named SB 420 for crying out loud. Who knows what is to come for the iconic set of numbers, but stoners' obsession with the phrase will definitely continue to permeate. From movies and music to pizza commercials, 420 will continue to represent everything cannabis for the foreseeable future. 

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