What Does 420 Have to do With Weed?


April 20 is now known as Weed Day or Marijuana Appreciation Day, and the date has become synonymous with the herb. In states where it is only legal for medicinal use, your ‘permission to use’ is known as a Medical Marijuana Card or a 420 card. The mystery, though, which to everyone’s amazement has yet to be 100% solved, is how the specific date of 4/20 became associated with marijuana consumption in the first place.

What 4/20 Isn’t

There are all sorts of myths and rumors associated with the origins of 420 Day. Here are a few that are almost certainly bogus:

Hitler’s Birthday

If you know your history, you’ll remember that Adolf Hitler was born on April 20. Fortunately for weed lovers, the evil dictator has nothing to do with Marijuana Day, and it is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.

Commemoration of Bob Marley

The Reggae legend was a known first and foremost as a cannabis advocate, so it makes sense that 420 is associated with him. However, the suggestion that it marks his passing or his birth is false because there is no link; he was born on 6 February 1945, died on 11 May 1981, and neither the time of his death or birth were 4:20 am or 4:20 pm.

Police Code

This myth suggests that 420 is a police code for weed smoking in progress, but again, while there are 420 codes in law enforcement around the world, we know of none associated with apprehending marijuana users. (The most tangible story, however, is of a local “420” code that was used in San Rafael, California back in the 1970’s. Apparently the Huffington Post carried out a certain degree of research into the story, and was able to come up with some pretty interesting facts.)

A Bob Dylan Song

In the song “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35,” Dylan repeatedly says “Everybody must get stoned!” If you multiply 12 x 35 you do get 420, but alas this is likely nothing more than a coincidence.

The Number of Chemical Compounds in Cannabis

This is definitely not the answer, because at the time of writing more than 500 chemical compounds have been found in weed.

A Bill Pending in Congress

The suggestion here is that there is (or was) a Bill #420 pending in Congress, that would be set to legalize weed on a federal level. Sadly, no such bill exists and it could be some time before it happens.

The Real Source of 420 Day

Although this story is not 100% accepted, it appears to be the most likely reason why 420 day exists. We have to go back to 1971 to the story of five high school students in San Rafael, California. Their names are: Jeffrey Noel, Dave Reddix, Steve Capper, Marck Gravich, and Larry Schwartz. They called themselves ‘The Waldos’ because they used to smoke weed by a wall outside their school.

According to one version of the story told by Reddix, they received a hand-drawn map that allegedly pinpointed the location of a cannabis crop in Point Reyes. They supposedly met at 4:20 pm each day to look for the hidden treasure but of course, they never found it. Reddix says that while they didn’t find the treasure, they did have a lot of fun – and smoked a lot of weed – while searching.

Whether or not the treasure map story is true, the five teens used to meet after school to get high. They chose to meet at 4:20 pm because it offered a small window between being out of school and not having to worry about their parents, who did not come home from work until later. During this brief unsupervised time, the kids were free to get stoned. They met beside a statue of Louis Pasteur and soon, 4:20 became the code for them to speak about weed in front of their parents.

A few years later, Reddix found work with Phil Lesh, who was the bassist for the Grateful Dead. Reddix worked as a roadie and toured with the group who eventually helped make the term ‘420’ popular. Followers of the band became known as ‘Deadheads,’ and on December 28, 1990, a group of them created flyers to invite people to consume some “420” at 4:20 pm on April 20 the following year. Steve Bloom was a writer for High Times magazine at the time, and he received a copy of the flyer. High Times printed a copy in 1991 and continually referenced the number.

While High Times credited the Waldos for coining the term in 1998, controversy followed. In 2012, 420 Magazine published an article which claimed that another group of San Rafael teenagers were the first to come up with the phrase. In the article, a man called “The Bebe” claimed that he and his friends were the ‘inventors’ of the term, and that The Waldos were simply ‘self-promoting wannabees.’

420 Today

Regardless of who came up with the phrase, April 20 is a national holiday of sorts for marijuana lovers. It has been described as “half celebration, half call to action” and has indisputably been the day for cannabis advocates to break the law openly. On April 20, 2013, for instance, thousands of people illegally smoked weed in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco – years before the herb became legal for recreational use in the state. California Senate Bill 420 was introduced in 2003 to regulate cannabis use; a deliberate reference of course to 420 Day.

In 2018, 420 Day will be celebrated in states where marijuana is still not legal for recreational use. For example there is a major celebration planned in New York City, with live music, street food, and a host of special events.

Unfortunately, the day is also associated with some negative events. For example there has been a 12% increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States on April 20 between 4:20 pm and midnight when compared to normal figures. Drivers aged 21 or less were almost 40% more likely to be involved in such an incident. Clearly, there are still too many people who get stoned and drive. It is ultimately the same as driving while under the influence of alcohol – SO DON’T DO IT!

On a more amusing, if slightly “criminal,” side note is the fact that signs bearing the number 420 are regularly stolen. In Colorado, for example, the Department of Transportation was forced to replace Mile Marker 420 on Interstate-70 with 419.99 because the old sign kept getting stolen!

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