The History of 420

The History of 420

The History of 420

April 20th, in the cannabis industry and every legal state, is practically a holiday. Although most people have heard of the 420 reference to marijuana by now, few really know the exact origins of the term. Start asking around and you’re likely to hear stories about Californian police codes, college students, and the Grateful Dead.

Urban legends are created when stories proliferate through word of mouth. Over time, the original story gets twisted and warped; and just like playing a game of “telephone” in kindergarten, whispering a sentence in the ear of your neighbor, and passing it along… by the time it makes it to the other end of the room, the sentence isn’t anything like the original. The 420 story is really no different. According to research done by Ryan Grim for the Huffington Post, the original story went much deeper than just a police code.

A Race to be the First

As the story goes, although a journalist tried to take credit in the early nineties, and bands like the Grateful Dead get credit for fliers passed out at their concerts, the real story has nothing to do with police codes or rock stars, in fact, it actually all started simply with a small group of rebellious high school students in the early seventies… and they have the original letters to prove it.

As the eighties movie, “Breakfast Club,” has taught us, every high school has its cliques, and San Rafael High was no different. Here, a small group of high school students would gather every day to lean on the wall and smoke, thus they were coined “The Waldos.” However, on one fall day in 1971, the Waldos would strike out on an adventure.

The boys, who all played sports, agreed to meet at 4:20 after practice to start a treasure hunt. Not just any treasure hunt… these boys were not seeking money or riches… they were seeking abandoned green. The Waldos had heard a rumor that a coast guard, who had been tending his own cannabis crop near the Point Reyes base, was no longer able to keep it up. So, hand-drawn map in hand, they started off on a quest to try to find this secret patch of ganja hidden deep in the Point Reyes forest.

Each and every day they would meet at 4:20, light up, and continue their search. For weeks, the Waldos, determined to find the forgotten patch of bud, would meet, get stoned, and pile into a car headed for the forest. Sadly, they never did stumble across the secret garden in the woods… however, they did coin a term that would create a cultural phenomenon and a goldmine of marketing potential.

So, although these kids were somewhat linked through acquaintances to the Grateful Dead, the band really had very little to do with it other than maybe creating a platform to help expand the term’s popularity with other smokers.

Proliferation of 420

When the magazine “High Times” caught wind of this slang for marijuana, they capitalized on it, expanding the reach of that little three-digit number into a worldwide alias for pot smokers everywhere. Do a Google search for “420 marijuana” and you’ll come up with over 4 million results. Pick up any cannabis magazine and you’ll find plenty of references to 420. Step into a dispensary and you’ll likely hear and see the number lots of places. Even SB420, the legislative bill allowing medical cannabis in California in 2003, was appropriately named.

However, when a code word is so widely recognized that it’s not really a code any more it simply becomes another term. Just like other slang, 420 can be used in many ways.

  • 420 as a noun – Most times 420 refers to the weed itself.

  • 420 as a verb – Sometimes 420 can refer to the actual act of smoking pot.

  • 420 as a complete sentence – Sometimes, all one needs to say is, “420?” and everyone will get the jest of it.

As legalization continues across the nation, it is safe to assume the 420 reference will become yet another everyday term.

4/20 the Holiday

Today, with the rise in the popularity of cannabis consumption and more and more smokers coming into the light, April 20th is hallowed and celebrated by many. The day, a symbolic reference to the struggles people have endured through prohibition is a day to celebrate the end of a bitter era for those who have consumed in secret for decades.

In Denver, the 4/20 celebration has become a week long cultural exhibition filled with art festivals, concerts, and massive smoke sessions. Many view it as an opportunity to be with others that love the plant as much as they do, while others view this event as a chance to proclaim their freedom and liberation from antiquated laws. Whatever their reasons, thousands of people make the pilgrimage from all over the country to celebrate and be a part of history. As dispensaries and budtenders all over the state are gearing up for their busiest day of the year, tourists will flock to Colorado to be a part of an event they cannot find in their own state, while locals will take advantage of the sales and big name concerts.

Who knew the simple actions of a few rebellious teenagers over 40 years ago would ultimately lead to an underground holiday and help the movement of a counter-culture into mainstream society? Although it may difficult for some to comprehend today, it is also probably safe to assume that in 1933, when prohibition of alcohol first came to an end, many would not have approved of Jimmy Buffet’s drinking antics telling us “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Consumers and non-consumers alike are embracing the cannabis movement and changing the way the world views cannabis. So, this April 20th at 4:20 pm, whether you smoke or not, glance at your clock and know… somewhere someone is freely lighting up and times they are a changin’.

Posted by Bob Smith
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