The phrase “420” is frequently associated with cannabis use, but, what is the origin of 420? Many cannabis consumers may have heard different opinions on the meaning of 420, from 420 being a police radio signal for cannabis users to the 420 bill passed in the California Government that advocated for medical cannabis legalization.
If you are interested in more cannabis information, our Cannabis 101 section is a great place to start as well.
Learn more about the origin of 420 below.
The Origin of 420
Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich were 5 high school student-athletes who met up after practice to smoke cannabis in 1971. They were known as “the Waldos”, a slang term used in the early 1970s to describe someone who smoked cannabis. Their chosen meet up spot was the Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael High School at 4:20pm, therefore, the code “Louis 420” was used between students when they wanted to meet up.
The term was also used as a code word to describe the group’s search for a hidden cannabis crop in the area. As the story goes, one of the growers was worried about law enforcement finding his huge crop. He made a map that he could give to those who were interested in harvesting cannabis. The Waldos ended up with the map and began to hunt for the secret cannabis crop.
The crop was never found by the students, but, the Waldos continued to used the 420 term to describe meeting up to smoke cannabis. Louis was dropped from the term and “420” became the chosen terminology.
Fans of the Grateful Dead are responsible for spreading this term across the United States. When Dave Reddix joined the travelling band as a roadie he continued to use the term “420” as a socially acceptable time to smoke cannabis. The band picked up on the term and started to refer to smoking cannabis as “420”. Then, fans of the band caught on to the code and the 420 ritual began to spread.
What Does 420 Mean Today?
420 has two meanings in terms of the consumption of cannabis at specific times. 4:20pm has been informally designated as a time to consume cannabis by many across the world. The other meaning in terms of cannabis culture is associating the term “420” with the date of April 20, which, in the U.S calendar, reads as 4/20.
Across the world, April 20 has become a day to celebrate, or, protest for, cannabis legalization. These types of gatherings also encourage particpants to consume cannabis at 4:20pm on April 20.
As cannabis prohibition relaxes across the world, April 20 can be seen as shifting from a protest-only event to one of celebration for the legalization or decriminalization of cannabis.
420 in Popular Culture
Individuals may designate themselves as “420 friendly” on an online profile – meaning that they either consume cannabis, or, do not have a problem with others consuming it.
An entire 2009 episode of the animated series Family Guy was entitled “420”. This episode explored various aspects of cannabis culture and presented an incredibly balanced view of the topic within the mainstream media.
The U.S State of Colorado, home to legal cannabis, decided to replace the 420 Mile Marker on the I-70 Highway after it was stolen several times. The sign has since been replaced with a 419.99 Mile-Marker in order to stop the reoccuring theft. In Idaho, Washington, Minesota, and Utah, signs with 420 have also been stolen on a regular basis which has lead to them being replaced with signs that say 419.99 like in Colorado.
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If you are interested in more cannabis information, our Cannabis 101 section is a great place to start. All of our sources for this article can be found below.
- Grim, R. ( 2010). “420 Meaning: The True Story Of How April 20 Became ‘Weed Day'”. The Huffington Post.
- Jacobs, J. (2019). “Washington State Wants to Stop Theft of Mile 420 Signs. Its Solution? Mile 419.9”. The New York Times.
- Keyser, H (2015). “Stoners Keep Stealing 420 Mile Markers, So Some States Have Replaced Them With 419.9“. Mental Floss.
- Pereira, A. (2016). “Local originators of term 420 solve a 45-year-old mystery”. San Francisco Chronicle.
- San Francisco Chronicle. (2000). “Stoner Chic Traces Origin To San Rafael – Snickering high schoolers brought ‘420’ into lexicon“.
- The Wall Street Journal. (2012). High Expectations: Marketers Hope for Buzz on 4/20“.