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Where Did 4/20 Come From?


    6 min Read

    For something that's not officially a holiday, 4/20 might be one of the most recognizable dates in the world. Celebrated every year on the twentieth of April, or by some every day at 4:20 PM, the number has become synonymous with cannabis culture.

    But where did this stoner icon come from? There are some pervasive myths online as to its origins, but not a lot of people know the true history of 420.

    Curious to know where everyone's favorite day came from? Let's take a look at the history of 420 Day, and debunk some fun (but false) myths surrounding it.

    The Myth of 420

    There are countless stories and explanations for where 420 originated from. Naturally, a lot of these stories have to do with the police or legal system in some way.

    A common explanation for the origin of 4/20 is that the number is a dispatch code that police use to identify marijuana crimes. A similar myth says that 4/20 is a state penal code for marijuana in California.

    Neither of these is true. 4/20 is not used as a police dispatch code at all, and California's penal section 4/20 has nothing to do with marijuana. In fact, it has nothing to do with any drugs at all.

    Still, it's not hard to see where these myths came from. Marijuana's huge popularity, combined with its illegality, has made marijuana culture and the police inseparable from each other. It's not hard to see how this one took off.

    Some other explanations are a bit harder to swallow, though. These are just the tip of the iceberg for 4/20 origin stories.

    There are claims that it relates to a Bob Dylan song. The song in question, "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35", has a chorus that makes reference to marijuana. Some have speculated that 420 is a reference to the song since it's the product of 12 and 35.

    The idea of it being mathematical in nature is a little odd, but we're only just getting started. Some have claimed that 420 comes from a tea time in Holland. Others have claimed it's the anniversary of Bob Marley's passing, which is false.

    Others have even claimed that it's related to Adolf Hitler in some way. While it is true that Hitler was born on April 20th, he has no connection to marijuana in any way. In fact, the dictator was notoriously anti-smoking.

    The Real History of 420

    Granted, some of those myths can be a lot of fun to consider. The thought of 420 being a rebellious reference to legal codes is an interesting one. But the real story behind it is interesting too, and may not be what you expect.

    For the truth behind 420, we need to go all the way back to 1971, and a group of friends called The Waldos.

    The Waldos were a group of high school friends who attended San Rafael High school in San Rafael, California. Every day at 4:20 in the afternoon, the friends would gather around a statue on campus to get high together.

    Why 4:20, you might ask? The reason had to do with scheduling times. The school they attended let out at 3:10 in the afternoon. Many of the Waldos had after-school activities, which usually lasted about an hour. This meant the earliest the friends could meet was 4:20 in the afternoon.

    But at that point, the reference was limited to just their friend group. It eventually began to spread throughout the school when the friends found a map to a pot stash. Before they went, they would salute each other with a "420" in the halls.

    How Did 420 Spread?

    With that, the reference began to spread throughout the school. But how did it reach the widespread awareness it has now? Believe it or not, the answer comes from a little band called the Grateful Dead.

    The friends were all huge fans of the band, who were themselves notorious stoners. A few years after high school, one of the Waldos became a roadie for the Dead. It was there that he introduced the band to 4:20.

    It then spread to the fanbase of the Grateful Dead, all culminating on December 28th, 1990. On that date, a group of Grateful Dead fans in Oakland, California posted fliers inviting people to smoke on April 20th of the following year.

    These fliers would eventually find their way to the magazine High Times. They began to make reference to 420, spreading it around the nation. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    How Did the Story Come Out?

    Naturally, it was next to impossible to trace 420 back to the Waldos. For a long time, it was believed to have originated with the Grateful Dead. And of course, questions of "why 420" lead to the many myths we talked about.

    It wasn't until 1999 when a man named Steve Capper, who was one of the Waldos, emailed the High Times. He told them the story of the Waldos, and how they had originated 420.

    The magazine sent a writer out to San Rafael to interview the friends, who all confirmed Capper's story. And thus, the truth about the origins of 420 was brought to light.

    Of course, not everyone reads High Times. And with the internet, fictional accounts took hold quickly. After all, it sounds more interesting to tie 420 to the police, or Bob Dylan, than to a group of high schoolers who liked to get high.

    But that's the true story of 420. The Waldos liked to get high, and 4:20 in the afternoon was the easiest time to do it.

    The Truth Behind the Fun

    The history of 420 may not be huge or dramatic, but it's a fun story nonetheless. The story of a reference between a small friend group, and the way it grew to a global phenomenon, is absolutely fascinating.

    So the next time you celebrate 4/20, take an extra hit for Steve Capper and the rest of The Waldos. And if you're interested in anything more about all things cannabis, check out the rest of our blog.

    Whether you're looking for information, stories like this one, or great products, we've got something for you.

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