history of 420

The History of 420: How Cannabis Got Its Holiday

420 is a number that all cannabis aficionados know and cherish. But, very few people know the history of 420 and how these three digits became so synonymous with cannabis. In this article, we will shed light on how April 20th became a worldwide celebration of weed.

There are a plethora of 420 origin theories floating on the internet. Some of them are pretty outlandish, like the one that 4:20 pm is the official time for tea in the Netherlands. Or, that there are exactly 420 active chemical compounds in cannabis.

There are numerous stories about the history of 420.

Another popular hypothesis is that 420 got its meaning from a famous Bob Dylan song called Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. This 1966 single contains the repeating chorus lyrics “Everybody must get stoned”, and the numbers in the title (12 and 35) when multiplied equal 420. 

Although most of these theories are undeniably entertaining, the real story of 420 actually revolves around a group of five California high school students in the ‘70s.

The real story about this holiday revolves around Californian teenagers, called the Waldos.

Today, we will cover how these guys accidentally came up with the most popular code word for cannabis consumption.  We will unravel how this number gradually evolved into a powerful global symbol against the criminalization of the cannabis plant. 

420 and the Waldos

During the fall of 1971, five high school friends from San Rafael, California somehow acquired a map which showed the location of an abandoned cannabis crop in their area.

Since the group was already familiar with cannabis and its effects, they were more than determined to find the deserted weed.

The history of 420 dates back to 1971.

They’ve decided to call themselves the Waldos, inspired by the children’s book Where’s Waldo. 

The friends had a quest once a week to try and locate the phantom cannabis. They used to meet up at the Louis Pasteur statue in front of their school. 

Since all of the boys had athletic practice after school, they used to meet up at exactly 4:20 pm. 

The guys used a secretive phrase “420 Louis” as a reminder to gather after training. The term later morphed into just 420. 

A secretive phrase “420 Louis” morphed into 420, which became a legend.

Once they met up, they would smoke some weed, get in a car and drive around the Point Reyes forest in search of the abandoned crop. 

Even though they haven’t managed to find the cannabis, they’ve continued to use the 420 phrase, which allowed them to talk about weed without anyone being the wiser. 

As the use of the 420 term continued, the number evolved to mean many different things, depending on the context it was said. 

420 has many different meanings associated with weed.

The most frequent 420 meanings for the Waldos included “Do you have any weed?”, “Should we go and get high?” and “Are you high right now?”. 

How 420 Reached the Mainstream

The story of how a slang term used only by a couple of highschoolers seeped into popular culture is the stuff of legends. 

The Waldos had a variety of connections to the Grateful Dead, a famous psychedelic rock band from California.

The father of one of the boys was the manager of the Dead’s estate. At the same time, an older brother of another Waldo was a close friend of the Dead’s lead bassist Phil Lesh.

The group frequently went to the concerts of the band. Since they were allowed to hang out backstage, their 420 catchphrase slowly began getting noticed. After a while, everybody around the band started using it.

The 420 phrase began getting noticed in the backstage of the Grateful Dead concerts.

The number also inspired the first 420 celebration. The fliers for this event were given out at a Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve show in 1990.

The flier stated that the first 420 meetup was going to be held at the Bolinas Ridge on Mount Tamalpais, on April 20th, at exactly 4:20pm.

One of the fliers found its way to Steven Bloom, who was a journalist for High Times at the time.

Steven Bloom, a journalist at High Times, published the flier for the first 420 event.

Bloom loved the idea of a stoner holiday, and he published the flier for the first 420 event in the next issue of High Times. This officially introduced 420 to the entire US cannabis community. 

420 Today

The 20th of April gradually became one of the most important global counterculture events. Today, people celebrate it all around the world.

Since cannabis still remains illegal in most countries, 420 also has a political aspect. These numbers advocate both the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis. 

Celebrated all around the world, April 20th is one of the most important counterculture events.

In countries where weed is still banned, citizens often engage in civil disobedience on 420, by consuming cannabis in public.

Street signs (primarily mile markers) that bear the 420 number are also regularly stolen. Some departments of transportation companies go so far as to change the signs. They usually replacing it with a sign that reads 419,99. in an attempt to avoid future theft.

420 is a symbol frequently referenced in popular culture.

The 420 numeral is also frequently referenced in popular culture. In Tarantino’s cult classic “Pulp Fiction”, most of the clocks and watches shown in the film show the time at exactly 4:20 pm. 

Don’t forget to celebrate the cannabis plant this year, and have a happy 420!


    1. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/4/19/18484698/what-is-420-meaning-marijuana-legalization 
    2. https://www.history.com/news/the-hazy-history-of-420
    3. https://www.newsweek.com/what-420-history-how-celebrate-1584687 
    4. https://time.com/4292844/420-april-20-marijuana-pot-holiday-history/ 
    5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/420_(cannabis_culture)


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It all started in 1979 on a small Hawaiian island, with a group of promising students and athletes that would hang out after school, riding in a Volkswagen van.

This group of friends loved to indulge in Pakalolo (noun: the Hawaiian word for cannabis) – or as locals called it: Choom. They named themselves the “Choom Gang” and would go on to influence our world as successful lawyers, entrepreneurs, and even the 44th president of the United States.

But back then, it was never about the future, it was about good people sparking ideas, sharing adventures, and cultivating good times.


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