The Origin of 420

The largest holiday for celebrating cannabis is right around the corner, but have you ever wondered, “how did 420 start?” Keep reading to find out how April 20th became national weed day, and learn the entire 420 origin story.

What Does 420 Mean? 

So why is the April 20th holiday associated with cannabis to begin with? 

420 has become a sort of code that can signify anything cannabis-related. Originally, using the number 420 in place of cannabis was a stealthy way to let you let your fellow smokers know that it was time to have a toke. However, nowadays, the cat’s out of the bag, and even many non-cannabis users are hip to the meaning of 420. Even though 420 doesn’t function as a secret code anymore, it’s still widely used. 

The 420 meaning can range from simply referring to any form of cannabis consumption, to smoking at the specific time of 4:20, or even just cannabis itself. Many cultivators, glassblowers, and other cannabis companies incorporate the number into the name of their products. For example, the Formula 420 glass cleaning solution uses 420 to signal that their product is intended for use on pipes and bongs without having to say it explicitly. This practice is largely held over from a time when cannabis wasn’t as culturally accepted, but even more modern companies will sometimes pay homage to the infamous weed number by including it in their products.

The Origin of 420

What Is 420 Friendly?

One common place where you may run into 420 is on online dating profiles or roommate ads. The term 420-friendly functions as a subtle way to signify that the person posting is cool with cannabis consumption and likely is a smoker themselves. The phrase is used to weed out potential partners or housemates who would find pot smoking to be a deal-breaker, and help like-minded stoners connect. 

Where Did 420 Come From?—The Myths

Where Did 420 Come From?—The Myths

So how did it come to be that the number 420 would be forever associated with marijuana? There are several myths that attempt to explain it. 

One such myth is that 420 is the police code for cannabis possession. However, 420 isn’t a police code for anything outside of Las Vegas, and there it references homicide.

Another persistent myth about the origins of 420 is that there are 420 compounds found in the cannabis plant. In truth, there are many more. Cannabis contains over 200 cannabinoids and terpenes alone, and has a total over 500 active compounds.

Some say that April 20th is the day that reggae singer and notorious cannabis connoisseur Bob Marley passed away. However, neither Marley’s death date nor birthdate fall in April. Other permeations of this myth include Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, but none of them are true. 

list of cannabinoid compounds

Where Did 420 Come From?—The Truth 

The true origins of 420 actually began in a small high school in San Rafael California with a group of students who named themselves the Waldos

It all started with a map that supposedly led to another student’s brother in-law’s secret cannabis stash. The Waldos got a hold of the map, and made a plan to meet up at a statue of Louis Pasteur after school at exactly 4:20 to begin their treasure hunt.

The group’s first expedition was a failure, but the Waldos didn’t lose hope. For weeks they continued to search for the stash, reminding each other in the halls by simply uttering 420. They never did find the concealed cannabis, but their code lives on to this day.

Believe it or not, the Grateful Dead played a pivotal role in spreading the teen’s cannabis cipher. Waldo member Dave Reddix scored a job as a roadie for the jam band after high school, and became close with the bassist Phil Lesh. Soon the band picked up the term and spread it nationwide while on tour.

It would be Oakland deadheads to first wish each other a happy 420 back in 1990. The fans created fliers that invited everyone in the city to spark up at exactly 4:20 and April 20th. From there, the holiday spread into the global phenomenon it is today.

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