What Does 420 Mean In Cannabis Culture?

Cannabis culture has more than its fair share of inside jokes and rituals, but none of them are quite as ubiquitous as 420. Even for those outside of the cannabis community, the infamous “weed number” can inspire a chuckle when it appears somewhere organically. 

420 has many different meanings, ranging from signaling that it’s time to smoke, to an international cannabis celebration. But have you ever wondered why we associate 420 with marijuana? You might think you know the answer, but there are a lot of myths out there. Keep reading to learn the true origin story behind 420.  

What Is Cannabis Culture? 

cannabis culture and 420

420 is one of the most recognizable facets of cannabis culture, but what exactly do we mean when we say “cannabis culture?” 

A culture is a set of beliefs, practices, and social norms that can arise out of any shared trait or interest. For example, American football culture has strong associations with certain foods and beverages like beer and nachos, as well as a deep devotion to particular teams that can involve purchasing merchandise like jerseys or extravagant face paint. When taken in aggregate, all these kinds of common habits connected to football form football culture. 

Cannabis culture develops in the same way. There’s no official law that states you should avoid white lighters or not bogart the joint. Still, these practices and unspoken rules have become widely accepted throughout the community of marijuana users. 420 is perhaps the most known aspects of cannabis culture, but what does it really mean?

What Is The Meaning Behind The Number 420? 

meaning of 420

420 can mean different things depending on the context where it’s used, but it most typically serves as a stand-in for the word cannabis itself. For example, if you’re perusing a dating app or searching for a roommate on Craigslist and come across the phrase “420-friendly,” it essentially just means cannabis-friendly. 

Using 420 instead of the words pot or marijuana can be a slightly more covert way to signal to others you enjoy cannabis. However, most people today, even those who aren’t part of the cannabis community, are familiar with 420’s association with marijuana. So, be aware it’s not the discreet code it used to be. 

420 also carries significance as a ritualistic time during which cannabis should be consumed. If a group of stoners are hanging out and the clock strikes 420, then it’s time for everyone to toke up. It’s a way to feel connected to the greater cannabis community. Even if you’re alone, if you light your bowl at 420, there’s bound to be tons of other people in your timezone getting high at the same time. 

Taking it a step further, on April 20th (4/20), the whole world celebrates cannabis by indulging in copious amounts of hemp and marijuana products. 

Why Is 420 Associated With Cannabis Culture? 

420 and cannabis

But why 420? What do these three numbers have to do with weed? 

Some people will tell you that 420 comes from the police code used to indicate a suspect is engaging in marijuana use. Other people say it has to do with Adolf Hitler’s birthday or the Bob Dylan song “Rainy Day Women #12 &#35.” 

However, these are all just myths. The real story behind 420 comes from a high school in San Rafael California, where a group of students who called themselves the Waldos went on a Goonies-style adventure to find an older classmate’s secret marijuana stash.

The group would signal to one another that they were going to hunt for the cannabis cache after school by saying “420 Louie,” meaning that they would meet up at the school’s statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 pm. During these meetups, the group would, of course, light up a joint before going out adventuring.

The Waldo’s continued to use 420 as a code for marijuana even after they graduated. Some of the group’s members became close with the Grateful Dead, and the usage spread among Dead Heads. As The Dead toured around the globe, 420 eventually spread to the rest of the cannabis community and became an internationally recognized phenomenon. 

Are you surprised by 420’s humble beginnings? Let us know on Twitter, and be sure to tell us your favorite 420 stories!

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