Cannabis Culture: the Story Behind 420

April 20th has long been one of marijuana smokers’ favorite holidays. Of course, even non-smokers know that 4/20 is the day to celebrate all things cannabis. But how did this counterculture holiday get its start?

Some folks say it’s because “420” is the police code for marijuana smoking in progress. Others try to make a long leap using Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” because 12 multiplied by 35 is 420. Neither of these is correct.

The true story begins in Marin County, California, back in 1971.

How 420 Began

We have five high school students to thank for the most auspicious of stoner holidays. Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich collectively called themselves the “Waldos” because they regularly hung out at one of San Rafael High School’s walls.

They heard of an abandoned cannabis crop based on a treasure map the original owner drew. So, of course, they decided to try and find this elusive crop (who wouldn’t want free weed?). They met at 4:20 pm at the statue of Louis Pasteur on campus. It’s said they chose this time because after-school extracurricular activities were over by then. The teens referred to this plan as “4:20 Louis.”

After several failed attempts to find the crop, the group eventually shortened the phrase “4:20.” In an interview with TIME magazine in 2017, one of the group, Dave Reddix, said, “We got tired of the Friday-night football scene with all the jocks. We were the guys sitting under the stands smoking a doobie, wondering what we were doing there.”

“420” became their code word for consuming cannabis. After that, the group began challenging each other to find ever more adventurous things to do while high. They called their adventures “safaris.”

How 420 Got Popular

The phrase “420” to refer to marijuana might never have grown past the Waldos were it not for the Grateful Dead. Dave Reddix’s brother helped Dave get work with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh as a roadie. As a result, it’s said the band helped to popularize the phrase.

The Waldos had open access to backstage areas thanks to Dave’s connection and his dad’s management of the Grateful Dead’s real estate. As they interacted with the band and fellow roadies, they continued to use their “420” phrase to refer to marijuana. It soon spread within the community.

In 1991, few “Deadheads” in Oakland handed out flyers inviting people to smoke weed at 4:20 pm on April 20th. One of these flyers got into the hands of Steve Bloom, who wrote for High Times magazine at the time. The magazine printed the flyer and regularly referred to the number as code for marijuana. It quickly spread within the community to the world at large.

Celebrate 420

420 Today

While it took until the 90s for “420” to become inexorably linked with marijuana, the popularity of the holiday has only grown. Now, you can find everything from bong history articles to T-shirts and other merchandise to custom blunt wraps—all things to help you celebrate the stoner’s holiday.

Additionally, the cannabis industry has grown far beyond simply smoking marijuana. Now you can vape, consume edibles, or use CBD oil.

Hemp-sourced CBD products, in particular, are enjoying a surge in popularity. Because the products contain no THC and thus have no psychedelic effects, even folks who would never smoke or otherwise consume cannabis can enjoy their benefits. CBD products can help reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and give you energy (depending on the type you consume).

You can enjoy any of these products to celebrate 420, though smoking marijuana is traditional. This holiday is celebrated worldwide and is treasured within the community. Folks see it as a way for the world to come together to all smoke at once. It’s a celebration of cannabis and all it can do for those who enjoy it.

420 in Laws and Media

In 2003, California’s legislature passed medical marijuana laws, and the bill was named SB 420. Unfortunately, no one has taken credit for the bill having that particular number. However, it’s rumored to have been a staffer in State Assemblymember Mark Leno’s office.

In the media, “420” has enjoyed countless references. Pulp Fiction has a few clocks set to 4:20, as does the 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life. In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the football game’s score is 42-0. There’s also an entire episode of Family Guy that revolves around 420.

Celebrate 420

This year, celebrate 420 safely. Enjoy your cannabis product of choice from the comfort of your own home. And remember to thank the Waldos when you do.

Tess is a freelance content writer for SMOKEA®, your number one source and one-stop shop for the hottest brands in the smoking industry.

Cannabis Culture: the Story Behind 420

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