Despite the fact that April 20 or 4/20 is a national holiday for marijuana culture, few individuals are aware of its origins.
Some claim that the number 420 is a police code for “while marijuana smoking is permissible.” 4/20 has also been connected to Adolf Hitler’s birthday by some people. According to certain sources, 12 x 35 equals 420, referring to Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”
However, the assertion that April 20 and 4/20 are connected with cannabis is untrue.
The most popular explanation credits the event to Marin County, California. In 1971, five students at San Rafael High School would meet by the campus’ statue of chemist Louis Pasteur to consume at 4:20 p.m. They picked that time because the end of extracurricular activities tended to arrive around then. The “Waldos,” as they were known because they met at a wall, included Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich. They used the term “420” to communicate in secret code about marijuana.
We grew weary of the Friday-night football scene, in which all of the jocks gathered, Reddix told TIME in 2017. We were the guys sitting under the bleachers smoking a doobie and wondering what we were doing there.
Known 420 Myths
Despite the fact that the term 420 is frequently utilized, few people are aware of its origins or significance. As a result, there are numerous tales, legends, and accounts regarding its origin and how it began. The following are some of the most popular rumors.
Myth: Police dispatch code for smoking pot is 420
420 isn’t a police radio code for anything to do with the New York Police Department or California Police Department.
Myth: It’s related to California’s penal code
According to certain sources, 420 comes from California’s criminal code in order to penalize marijuana usage or distribution, which is incorrect. In the penal code, preventing access on public property is referred to as 420.
Myth: There are 420 active chemicals in marijuana
The precise number of active components in marijuana varies according to the marijuana’s formulation.
Myth: April 20th is Hitler’s birthday
Despite the fact that it was Adolf Hitler’s birthday, the significance of “420” had nothing to do with it. It’s just a coincidence.
Myth: April 20th is the date of the Columbine school shootings
Although the Columbine incident occurred on April 20th, 1999, the phrase “Columbine” had been in circulation for some time.
The Real Origin of 420
According to Steve Bloom, an editor at High Times, the term 420 was first used in 1971 at San Rafael High School in California.
The Waldos, a group of around a dozen people who called themselves that, met up every day to smoke marijuana at 4:20 p.m. Instead of announcing their intention to get high, they used the phrase “420.”
According to one source, the term spread and it evolved into a method for restaurants and firms to indicate that they were “420 friendly.” Its origins have been forgotten over time, but the “code” remained. April 20th (also known as 4/20) eventually became known as Weed Day or Pot Smokers Day, and individuals from all around the world regularly congregate to smoke marijuana in celebration of the occasion.
Marijuana legalization is changing 4/20
It’s not always clear what 4/20 means to different people. Some people just want to get high and have a good time. Others regard the day as an opportunity to advocate for the legalization of marijuana or to rejoice in the fact that more states are adopting it, with increasing support from the public at large.
In the early 1970s, 4/20 was a component of a smaller counterculture movement that embraced cannabis as a badge of pride to challenge larger systemic issues in the United States, such as overseas conflicts and corporate dominance. “Marijuana was the way you said you weren’t a suit,” Drug Policy Expert at Stanford University Keith Humphreys previously told me.
In recent years, marijuana legalization advocates have sought to add a more political aspect to the event, portraying it as an opportunity to push their political agenda. During the first year that marijuana sales were legal in Colorado, organizers of the 2014 Denver protest issued a statement comparing the fight for legitimate marijuana to “the time when Jews fled from slavery in Egypt,” which is remembered during Passover festivals. “While the fight for freedom from economic servitude for our community’s vulnerable members continues, this year’s rally signifies a rebirth of creative genius that will get us there,” they added.
Businesses are also attempting to take advantage of the occasion. Eddie Miller, the founder and CEO of Invest in Cannabis, which seeks to encourage investors into the cannabis industry, informed me that his firm was attempting to organize and sponsor large 4/20 gatherings across the country — similar to what other businesses, some of which Miller has been involved with, have done with holidays like St. Patrick’s Day.
“4/20 is a real holiday — no less significant than St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween,” Miller explained previously. “It’s just that no one knows about it yet. And our firm will let everyone know about it.”
4/20 is becoming a commercial event
The widely used acronym “420” is in fact a code for marijuana. 4/20 was initially a counterculture holiday to protest, at least in part, the social and legal stigmas associated with cannabis. Marijuana decriminalization threatens this purpose: as large businesses and corporations start growing, selling, and marketing marijuana, it loses its countercultural significance—and perhaps even the end of the conventional, countercultural 4/20.
“If a major corporate marijuana industry embraces 4/20, it would no longer be a countercultural phenomenon,” Humphreys added. “People have celebrated Christmas for centuries before it became an occasion for orgy of gift-buying and materialist consumption, but the significance of the holiday to most individuals was very different then than it is now.”
Invest in Cannabis, for example, notes that the holiday is another marketing opportunity for the industry and its goods, similar to that of beer and other alcoholic companies.
“The media is focusing on 4/20 as a consumer interest story,” Miller of Invest in Cannabis said. “However, some portion of the media is covering 4/20 as a call to arms for the industry — thus there are several competitive business conferences happening in Denver, the [San Francisco] Bay Area, and Las Vegas in 2015.”