The Origins of 420
420: the not-so-secret code for all things marijuana-related.
But it mainly has to do with time: 4:20 pm/am to be exact. If you’re going to smoke cannabis, that’s the perfect time to do it.
Why? Because it’s just tradition!
In fact, April 20 (4/20) is an unofficial holiday for marijuana consumers – medical and recreational alike. The banks may still be open and you still have to go to work, but that doesn’t make the day any less special.
Think we’re exaggerating when we call it “special’? We’re not. Medical marijuana dispensaries consider 4/20 a big retail holiday. When 4/20 rolls around, keep your eyes open for big sales events at your local dispensary.
But what are the origins of 420? How did it become such a huge part of cannabis culture? Why not some other set of numbers? Any set of numbers!
Well, believe it or not, “420” actually refers to a numerological sequence that the ancient Chinese used when they wrote medical marijuana textbooks.
Okay, that obviously isn’t true, and that’s why you should never believe everything you read (except our blog, of course)! Although, the ancient Chinese did use marijuana for medical purposes.
But a lot of myths surrounding the origins of 420 have popped up over the years, and they don’t sound any less crazy than the one you just read. Here are just a few of them.
- 420 is a police code for “marijuana.” Nope. Not true. Although if learning police codes is your thing, check this out.
- Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison died on 4/20. – Actually, Hendrix died on 9/18, Joplin died on 10/4 (which IS the police code for “OK”) and Morrison died on 7/3. If you’re still looking for a common thread that connects these three musicians, here’s one: all three of them died at the age of 27.
- 4/20 is Adolf Hitler’s Birthday – Yes, this is true, but it has nothing – repeat, NOTHING – to do with origins of 420 in cannabis culture. It’s just an unfortunate coincidence.
- April 20 is the perfect date to plant a marijuana crop – Nope. Obviously, it depends on where you’re growing it. Also, indoor grow houses allow you to plant even in the winter.
- It’s from the Bob Dylan song “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35” – This song talks a lot about getting stoned. But that aside, 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420. What a coincidence! And that, unfortunately, is all it is: a coincidence. Nothing to with 420 as we know it.
- When the Grateful Dead stayed in hotel rooms, they always picked Room #420 – No, but this is a little closer to the truth. Maybe it’s the closest of all the myths out there.
The REAL Origins of 420
In 1971, a group of high schoolers in San Rafael, California created the code “420” as we know it.
These students called themselves “the Waldos.” No relation to the Where’s Waldo book series. They named themselves that because they literally hung out near a wall.
One fateful day, the Waldos found themselves in possession of a “marijuana treasure map.” The map supposedly led to a marijuana crop that was growing in Point Reyes, California.
The Waldos planned to get together after school to go find the crop. They got out of class at 3 PM but some of them had after-school activities that lasted until 4 pm.
So they decided to meet at 4:20 pm. They’d get together, smoke some marijuana, and tried to find this fabled cannabis crop.
They didn’t find the crop on their first outing. Or their second. Or their third.
In fact, they never found that crop. But they still kept meeting at 4:20 pm to go look for it.
From there, they started using “420” as a code for smoking marijuana in general, no matter what time it was. They’d used the code in school, right in front of teachers, and the teachers would have no idea what the Waldos were talking about.
Now…a family member of one of the Waldos was connected to Phil Lesh, bassist for the Grateful Dead, and the term “420” was passed on to the band. After that, 420’s popularity exploded.
In 199o, Oakland-based Deadheads distributed flyers inviting people to “smoke 420” on April 20, 4:20 pm. Somehow, one of the flyers ended up in the hands of High Times magazine. The magazine printed a copy of the flyer the following year and continued using 420 as a reference for marijuana.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“420” is now a staple of cannabis culture.
It’s constantly referenced in TV/films, magazines, websites, and products. Marijuana-related businesses incorporate it into their brand names. Some roommate ads on Craig’s List make specific requests for “420-friendly” roommates.
It even made its way into state government. Californa’s 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act was officially known as Senate Bill 420. Nobody ever found out who gave it that name, by the way.
Why It’s Important to Celebrate 4/20
Cannabis has an interesting history of use on this planet. The ancients used it for many purposes, ranging from medicine to food to clothing to rope to religious sacrament. It was considered a sacred plant by many cultures for thousands of years.
It’s only recently that it’s been outlawed and stigmatized. It went from being a celebrated, respected plant to becoming totally despised and rejected.
Only even more recently has it been allowed to step back into the light of day.
We can’t think of any plant – psychoactive or otherwise – that not only has its own holiday but is also celebrated to the extent that marijuana businesses fully expect their sales to increase that day, even offering special deals because of it. That just goes to show you the effect this plant has had on modern culture.
Holidays force us out of our normal routine and give us the opportunity to focus on the things that we too often take for granted. We at Dr. Green Relief are grateful to reside in a state that has legalized medical marijuana. Although 28 states and D.C. all enjoy this privilege, there are 22 other states where medical patients aren’t permitted to use cannabis.
So while April 20 gives us the opportunity to celebrate medical marijuana and feel genuine appreciation for the healing it offers our patients, we’re also encouraged to look forward to the day when the federal marijuana prohibition ends. That way, no one in America will feel as if they need to speak about marijuana in secret. The stigma will vanish, and patients will be able to use and discuss cannabis just like they would aspirin.
But we’ll probably keep using the code “420.” After all, we’re still getting some good mileage out of it.