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the Origins of 4/20

Unraveling the Origins of 4/20: The Story Behind International Weed Day

Every year on the 20th of April, people across the globe come together to celebrate their love for all things marijuana. 420 has become a recognised code, symbol and international holiday for weed smokers, but the actual reason behind this is often hazy.
Hayley Smith
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Demystifying the legend of 420

An abundance of festivals, parties, and gatherings take place to celebrate this magical green herb and, iIn many places where cannabis is not legal, it also serves as a date to rally together for marches and protests, fighting for legalization. 

A lot of myth surrounds the origin story of 420, but the most popularly believed (and likely) is as grassroots and anti-establishment as we could’ve hoped for, with its origins accredited to a group of Cali teenagers.

This article will bust some of the myths that surround 420, take a look at its real origin, how it spread and explore the ways people choose to celebrate this stoner holiday. 

It’s 4:20!

For me personally, 420 (both the time and the date), has been of significance to me since I was a teenager having a few tokes on a spliff behind a shed in my hometown, although I never really understood why. 

My friend and I will always drop each other a text, should we look at the time and it happens to be 4:20, where nothing more is said than ‘420’. For a long time, it was merely an aimless game to me that provided a giggle or a little fist pump of achievement for looking at the phone at 4:20 on the dot. 

I say that as if I don’t do it anymore, which is misleading, as I most definitely do…

Debunking myths

There is a lot of false information floating around in relation to 420, so before we delve into the true origins let’s debunk some of the myths, some of them being more believable than others.

  • It is not the number of active compounds contained in cannabis
  • Nor is it Bob Marley’s birthday or any other famous weed smoker 
  • It is not a secret police dispatch or penal code
  • It is not linked to a math equation from the Bob Dylan song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” or the line “everybody must get stoned” 
  • Despite it being Hitler’s birthdate, it too has no relation to marijuana or 420

The Waldo’s, Louis, and 420

It’s widely believed that the true origin of 420 lies with a group of weed smoking teenagers from San Rafael High school in Northern California, nicknamed The Waldo’s. 

In the early 1970’s, the group found that mainstream high school jock culture wasn’t for them and they preferred to spend their time getting high, chatting and finding new adventures to entertain themselves. 

The Waldos arranged to meet up at 4:20pm to smoke up, the perfect time window between school and their parents arriving home from work. They would whisper “Louis, 420” to one another when passing in the hallway at school as a reminder of their meeting time and place, with “Louis” being a statue of a scientist in town which acted as the meeting point. 

Eventually, the Louis part of the phrase got dropped and it just became 420 – a timestamp for when to smoke up which gradually spread across the state, and beyond, from one stoner to another.

Eventually, 420 became more than just a time or date, it worked as a code to evade unwanted attention from parents and other people with authority in a time when cannabis was prohibited in the state and still somewhat taboo. 

How did it spread from a group of teenagers to a global phenomenon?

420 became a code between fellow weed smokers that spread within the Golden state initially, and then past state lines. 

An original member of The Waldos told Time Magazine that his time as a roadie with the band Grateful Dead helped popularize the term. It further spread in December 1990 when the band handed out flyers inviting people to smoke ‘420’ on the 20th of April at 4:20pm. A High Times magazine reporter found himself with one of these flyers, which solidified and expanded 420’s place in marijuana culture when he published it in the magazine in 1991. 

How do people celebrate 420 and why?

420 is an important element of cannabis counterculture that blossomed across the world. It provides the opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together, let go of other social differences and share their love and appreciation for Mary Jane. 

Festivals, gatherings, comedy shows and weed tours are among the many ways people are able to celebrate 420 in this day and age. A plethora of events and experiences have popped up across the world to suit every stoner or weed enthusiast. These events are often a wonderful mix of music, art, self-expression, meeting new people and of course testing new and exciting cannabis strains and products. 

Unsurprisingly, sales of cannabis products (both high-THC and high-CBD) go through the roof ahead of 420 to stock up on their favorite goodies and flowers. In states where marijuana is legal, enormous queues form outside legal dispensaries, while in others, online sales of hemp-derived products reach all time highs.

Pro-drug rallies take place across the world on 420 as activists, and alike, come together to demonstrate their support for cannabis legalization. 

Others opt for a smaller affair and casually meet up with friends at home or in their local park for a blaze up and tribute to all things good and green. For some, showing appreciation means popping on some comfies, getting some snacks in and rolling up a joint to watch their favorite stoner movie. 

As a Brit, I often found myself heading to Hyde Park in London to celebrate this special day. This gathering is undoubtedly the biggest of its kind in the UK – seeing thousands of people come together to smoke and demonstrate their love for marijuana. A smoke cloud can be seen and smelt from quite a distance and, despite cannabis remaining illegal in the UK, it is largely tolerated on this day in particular. 

More than just a time or date

From humble beginnings to an internationally recognised day of celebration and coming together of people, 420 holds significant importance for many weed smokers that will remain for years to come. 

420 is more than just a date or time, it is a symbol of counterculture, freedom and appreciation for marijuana, that spread from a high school in Cali to stoners everywhere. It enables people to come together in an open, relaxed and non-judgemental environment to demonstrate their love for this magic herb. 

With the world’s legality and attitudes around weed changing at a rapid pace, 420 is an important part of keeping this momentum going, diminishing taboo and demonstrating its peaceful nature and benefits. 

If you’re wondering which strains to indulge in this 420, check out this article on our Top 4 to celebrate 420 recommendations for the holiday.

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