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History of 420: What Does 420 Mean

March 28, 2021 3 min read

history 420

It’s nearly that special time of the year again. Yes, we’re talking about every stoner’s favorite holiday, April 20th, best known as 4/20. So, where did the term 420 come from and why do potheads celebrate 420? We’re breaking down everything you need to know so you can impress your friends when they ask these questions at your next smoke sesh.

What does 420 mean?

There are lots of conspiracy theories out there. Maybe you heard a few like the one about 420 having something to do with the molecular makeup of marijuana, the death of Bob Marley, the birth of Hitler (yes, he actually was born on April 20, 1889), or the police code for a cannabis-related offense. These are all tall tales that definitely make for a great story after a few bong rips on a Friday night, so it’s clear how these fables continue to get passed down over the years. The true meaning of 420 is actually an obvious one. It refers to a time, 4:20 p.m., when a group of California high school students in the 1970s would meet to light up. They began using the code word 420 to refer to smoking marijuana. Today, stoners use the term 420 in a variety of ways. It can refer to April 20th and 4:20 p.m., but also to simply mean smoking weed or just to refer to cannabis culture in general. But how did a made up code word by California teens become known across the globe?

History of 420

There is still some debate on the specific details of how the legendary “weed day” came to be, but the most widespread and accepted story begins with this group of teenagers and ends with the Dead. The one and only Grateful Dead!

The San Rafael high schoolers chose 4:20 p.m. as their meeting time since it was right after their athletic practice. Every day they gathered near a wall outside their school, which gave rise to their nickname, the Waldos. The story goes that somehow the Waldos got their hands on a treasure map that led to a secret stash of cannabis plants somewhere in the Point Reyes Forest. The crew began using 420 as their code to meet up, smoke, and search for the stash, this way their teachers and parents wouldn’t know what they were up to. They never did find those plants, but the code stuck. The Waldos weren’t just Deadheads, they were directly connected to The Grateful Dead through one group member’s father and another’s older brother, who was a close friend of bassist Phil Lesh.

The band moved from San Francisco to Marin County, just blocks away from the San Rafael High School. With their close connections, the Waldos would regularly hang out and smoke with the band members during rehearsals, backstage at concerts, at Dead parties, and even on tour. They continued to use the term 420 and it quickly caught on and spread throughout the niche community. As the Grateful Dead rose to fame throughout the 70s and 80s, they toured around the world spreading their music and the use of 420 to the underground scene.

Decades later in 1990, a flyer was passed out at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California. It 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.” The flyer also talked about the history of 420 (it mentions the false police code story) and the San Rafael Waldos. At this time, 420 was a well known and regularly used phrase by the Deadhead community. The flyer got into the hands of Steven Bloom, an editor atHigh Times, who immediately published a story on this underground expression used mainly in a small cannabis community in California. Once the 420 article got out, the reference was launched to full international stardom and the rest is history.

Is 710 the new 420?

While 710 may be trending thanks to the growing popularity of dabbing and cannabis concentrates, 420 is here to stay. The code 420 has seeped so deep into mainstream culture since its inception in the 70s that everyone now knows what it means. From director Quentin Tarantino famously setting all the clocks in his cult classicPulp Fictionto read 4:20, to the rise of 420-friendly Airbnb listings, we haven’t seen the end of marijuana lovers’ favorite three-digit number.

Do you need some new retro-inspired glass to honor the history of 420? Visit our online headshop to scoop up the hippie Clipper lighter set, 13-inch psychedelic silicone bong, and the classic wood dugout complete with a cigarette one hitter.


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