420: The History Behind The Legendary Number And Stoner Holiday

Photo by @lexscope via Unsplash

Since the month of April 2020 aka (4/20) won’t get its full glory due to the coronavirus, we thought it’d be nice to learn about the history of 420. Cannabis prohibition defined the rising cannabis industry over the decades, and with that came a dangerous atmosphere. Due to this, many people assume April 20th, the biggest holiday in cannabis culture, is tied to penal or police codes. While the real roots are edgy, they’re much more humble than one would expect. 

The popular fantasy of blunt smoking gangsters flying around dark cities in beautiful cars is a cornerstone of music videos featuring cannabis however, there’s an often underrated demographic within the weed world. Dorky highschoolers who sneak their biweekly hit out of a piece in the garage are their level of hardcore cannabis enthusiasts and the origin of the legendary 420. 

420: The History Behind The Legendary Number And Stoner Holiday

4:20 Everyday in San Rafael 

Public high school students in California may be unlikely criminals, but back in 1971 the “Waldos,” an informal club composed of five students, were always looking for mischief. They were the type of kids that were usually smoking under the bleachers; the outcasts.

After catching wind of cannabis abandoned by the Coast Guard, they agreed to meet up after school to smoke and look for the goods. As all of the students engaged in extracurricular activities, the best time for all of them to meet up was 4:20pm.

To remember this plan, the “Waldos” would remind each other by repeating the time whenever they happened to run into each other in the hallways. Over the months they never found that abandoned weed, but they retained the phrase as code. Phil Lesh, the bassist for the Grateful Dead, was eventually exposed to 420 through the older brother of one of “The Waldos”. 

420: The History Behind The Legendary Number And Stoner Holiday

After hearing the code, the Lesh would bring the phrase into the culture of the Grateful Dead, and eventually, the band would publish posters introducing people to the term. Since then, 420 has spread exponentially throughout the world, having cultural significance in countries that have still yet to legalize cannabis.

Myths and Odd Coincidences

The first time legendary scientists Albert Hoffman took LSD he dosed himself at 4:20. Maybe 4:20 just happens to be a great hour in the day to take psychedelics, but the “Waldos” weren’t consciously calling back to this event. 

They also certainly weren’t referencing the most famous person born on April 20th, Adolf Hitler. However, Bob Marley and Dylan Thomas were not born and did not die on April 20th. There are no cultural figureheads behind the holiday, not even Jimmy Hendrix. 

Instead, in yearly festivals from Vancouver to Amsterdam, millions light up on 4/20 to remember the daily tradition of a couple of high schoolers getting high after sports. It might not be the sexiest origin, but it’s one that truly represents the good-natured fun behind many peoples’ cannabis consumption. 

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