The Origins of 4/20

Post by 
Grace McCullough

t’s 4/20, a day where hundreds of thousands of people celebrate marijuana and the culture it has created. But why today? Where did “420” really come from?

Golden Gate Park “Hippie Hill” 

Every stoner has a different tale about its origin. Some believe it’s the day Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison died or the day he was born (all untrue). Many say 420 is the California police code for marijuana possession or smoking in progress (also untrue).  Others say it’s the number of active cannabinoids found in the plant, or based on the teatime in Holland. The most farfetched of all is the belief is comes from Bob Dylan’s “Everybody Must Get Stoned” refrain from “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35”, (12 x 35 = 420).  So what is the truth? 

Headliners for Denver's new Mile High 4/20 Festival announced

Mile High 420 Festival, Denver, Colorado

420 dates back to the early 1970s to a group of stoner teens from San Rafel high school in northern California. The friends, who dubbed themselves “the Waldos” because they used to hang out in front of a wall, met every day after school at 4:20 pm and set out on a treasure hunt to find an abandoned grow.  While they never found the grow, the group began to use 420 as code amongst themselves. The code word spread through friends and acquaintances, soon reaching members of the Grateful Dead band and spreading throughout Deadheads all over the country and around the world. 

Eventually, Steve Bloom, an editor at High Times magazine in 1990, attended a Grateful Dead concert at the Oakland Coliseum when he was handed a flyer explaining the term 420. Soon after, High Times started using the “420” for stories in the monthly magazine. Events, festivals, and get-togethers began popping up all over the country on 4/20 celebrating marijuana and continue to this day.

While 420 becomes more mainstream, it continues to bring together the cannabis community and remind us all of the counterculture it started as.

Sweet Water Fest, Atlanta, Georgia 

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