Why is 420 associated with weed?
There are so many tall tales and conspiracy theories circulating around cannabis aficionados regarding the meaning of 420 and how it came to be such an important number for potheads. Some of the craziest myths we’ve heard have to do with the cannabis plant at the molecular level, the day or time that Bob Marley died, or that 420 used to be the code that police officers would radio in for a marijuana-related offense. Some weed smokers have also been spreading around that 4/20 has something to do with Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Coincidentally, Hitler was actually born on April 20, 1889 (4/20/1889) but we aren’t sure how that would connect him in any way with smoking weed. The craziest conspiracy theory is that 4/20 is a hidden message from the refrain, “Everybody must get stoned” on Bob Dylan’s song, “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” because 12 times 35 equals 420. The truth is, all of these tales are simply untrue and the 420 number meaning is actually a lot more obvious and straightforward.
Today, 420 is associated with weed in a few different ways. Most commonly as 4/20, April 20th when serious tokers light up and have events honoring the green goddess. Many pot smokers who don’t want to celebrate just once a year interpret the number to be 4:20 p.m. Just think of it like happy hour for cannabis lovers. When the clock hits, 4:20, it’s time to light up! The term 420 is also used to simply refer to the act of smoking marijuana and being weed friendly. With the rise of cannabis concentrates like wax, budder, shatter, BHO, and other dabs, the marijuana community became split between OG dry herb lovers who continue to roll blunts and pack bowls for their bongs and concentrate users who prefer ultra potent dabs. Instead of 420, those who dab concentrates came up with their own three-digit number, 710. Nowadays, 710 is growing in popularity and is used to refer to dabbing and the dabbing community. The origin of 710 is another mystery that we’ll have to solve another time, but the number was chosen because it spells “OIL” backwards and upside down. But why is 420 associated with weed? Here’s the real reason.
Why is 420 a pothead holiday?
Prior to the 4 20 holiday, the use of 420 was actually started by a group of high school students from San Rafael in Northern California sometime in the 1970s. These high school kids would meet up every day at the same time, yup you guessed it, at 4:20 p.m. The group began to use 420 as the code word for their secret smoke sesh so parents and teachers wouldn’t know what they were up to. Nowadays, this is just one of the many ways cannabis smokers use the number. But how is it possible that a secret code created by high school kids became the most popular stoner holiday and a number known by cannabis enthusiasts around the world?
History of the stoner holiday
While it’s still not entirely clear how the global phenomenon of 420 day came to be as popular as it is and the specifics have gotten lost in time, a lot of questions have been answered. The story begins at San Rafael High School near San Francisco, California and includes the genre-bending rock band The Grateful Dead, their loyal group of followers called DeadHeads, and a growing cannabis news outlet you may have heard of, High Times.
In the 1970s, five high school kids would give each other the code word, “let’s 420 today” and meet up at a wall outside of San Rafael High School after class at 4:20 p.m. Their meeting spot was the inspiration behind the nickname of their stoner group, The Waldos. Word got around that there was a pot-loving Coast Guard member who planted a cannabis plant but didn’t have the time to take care of it anymore. Somehow, The Waldos got their hands on a treasure map to the hidden location of the plant. Whether this was from the owner of the plant or simply didn’t exist is still up for debate. Instead of lighting up a joint at 4:20 p.m. each day after school, the teens went on a treasure hunt in search of the secret cannabis plant that was supposedly somewhere in the Point Reyes Forest in Marin County. Steve Capper, who was one of the Waldos explained, “We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis, and we eventually dropped the Louis.” Louis referred to the Louis Pasteur statue, which was where someone would pick them up with a car to start the search. The group never did find that free herb, but the term 420 stuck.
420 went mainstream because of the group’s connection to the well-known band, The Grateful Dead. The Waldos weren’t just DeadHeads, they knew and hung out with the group before they rose to international stardom. While the band was originally from San Francisco, the group ended up moving near the high school at one point. One of The Waldos’ fathers knew a band member personally and another one of the kids' older brothers was close friends with the bassist, Phil Lesh. The high schoolers could often be found hanging out with the band at rehearsals, smoking pot backstage before shows, and traveling with them on Dead tours across the country. Despite not having to use a secret code any longer, the teens continued to use the term 420 when referring to smoking weed and it quickly caught on within the close-knit DeadHead community. It spread to more and more of the band’s followers as the group rose to fame from an underground community to celebrity status in the 1970s and 1980s. As they toured the globe sharing their unique sound, they were also unintentionally spreading the word 420, which was quickly embraced by DeadHeads.
At this point, 420 was only used by members of the niche community who followed the band. What truly spread the number to the masses was an article by High Times. In 1990, Jonathan Schneider printed copies of a flyer to hand out at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California. The flyer read, “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...Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore.” Sounds like a great idea if you ask me! The two column page also gave an inaccurate history of 420, which explained that “Four twenty started in San Rafael, CA in the late 70s. It started as the police code for marijuana smoking in progress.” This is almost certainly the origin of the false narrative that continues to be shared. The flyer also calls April 20 the “grand master of all holidays…when you must get the day off of work or school.” DeadHeads already knew all about 420 at this point, but the flyer got into the hands of a newbie to the concert, Steven Bloom. Bloom was an editor for High Times and was looking for a good story about the band and open cannabis use amongst fans. He excitedly wrote up a piece on the DeadHeads and this new term and holiday all about smoking weed. 4/20 reached many more people due to the popularity of the popular cannabis magazine and as they say, the rest is history.
At this point, you may be thinking that the story is great, but how do we know that it’s true. Are we just going to believe the words of The Waldos? Everyone wishes they were the one who started the term right? Well my friends, there is proof. Physical proof and a lot of it. In addition to copies of the original flyer handed out at the Oakland concert that was saved by Steven Bloom, members of The Waldos have a safe deposit box filled with references they made about 420 back in the 1970s. This includes their original tie-dyed 420 flag, a newspaper where a member states that he wants to just say 420 and walk off stage during his high school graduation speech, and several postmarked letters that were sent between the five Waldos that are littered with 420 references. The members took photos of these crucial pieces of evidence and gave them to news outlets for proof, however a few of them have asked to remain anonymous and we can totally understand that too. You can check out the photos for yourself in this National Geographic article.
420 in popular culture
Following the High Times article, the number has permeated pop culture and even those who don’t smoke weed know that 420 has something to do with marijuana. A medical marijuana bill was passed in California in 2003, which was officially called SB 420. No one came forward and confessed to choosing that specific number, but let’s just say it wasn’t a coincidence. Dozens of movies and T.V. shows have made references to 420 over the years including “Pulp Fiction” and Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life,” where clocks read 4:20. There was even a weed-loving “Price Is Right” contestant, who humorously only bid numbers that included 420 like $1,420. Sounds like the pricing system we like to go by here at Everything For 420.
When is 420 in 2022?
When is 420? On every April 20 of course! Or you can also just light up at 4:20 a.m. or p.m. on any day if you can’t join the festivities on the weed day itself. What day is April 20 this year? Unfortunately, 4/20 lands on a Wednesday in 2022 and is not a national holiday, so you may have to wait to participate until after work or school. If you live in a legal state, there are many different types of 4/20 events held on April 20 or the weekend so all potheads can join in. These events include everything from 420 friendly concerts, movie screenings, cannabis festivals, grow competitions, sales at the dispensary, and more! Another great idea is to celebrate 420 by calling up your smoking buddies and throwing your own 420 party complete with BYOB (bring your own bud) and maybe even an edibles cooking competition if you're up for it.
420 friendly meaning
Now that you took a deep dive into 420 day and the meaning and history behind the most popular three-digit number, you should know the 420 friendly meaning. You see it all over the place from Airbnb listings to party invitations and all it really states is that you can consume cannabis here without judgment.