As weed becomes legal in more and more states, April 20 is coming to be something of a national holiday, at least for stoners. While there are rumors about how and why 420 has come to be synonymous with weed, we can discount a couple off the bat: No, you don’t always bake pot brownies at 420 degrees, nor is it the number of cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, in the cannabis plant.
Instead, the iconic number 420 has humble roots in a small town in northern California. A group of teenagers who called themselves “the Waldos,” since they liked to hang out by a wall near San Rafael High School, used to gather at 4:20 P.M. to toke and look for a missing pot plant near Point Reyes Coast Guard Station.
It was 1971 when the Waldos had caught wind that someone from the Coast Guard was forced to ditch his plants, so they hoped to swoop in and resurrect the abandoned field. The idea was to meet up at 4:20 by a statue of French microbiologist Louis Pasteur, and look for the empty cannabis plot.
The Waldos never actually found the legendary plot, but 4:20 stuck, and they continued to use the term as a codeword for smoking weed. It doesn’t end there, however: 420 was still destined to make its way out of small town, California, and into the international stoner consciousness.
Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s friend’s brother, Dave Reddix, was a Waldo. Lesh adopted the term 420 from Reddix and crew, and popularized it as he toured with the Dead around the world. 420 came to be synonymous with weed.
Since then, 420 has been intentionally and unintentionally used in reference to cannabis — use, policy, culture, the plant itself. California Senate Bill 420, for instance, authorized medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, following the passage of Prop 215 in 1996, when the state pioneered the legalization of medical cannabis. Meanwhile, in the movie Pulp Fiction, all the clocks are set to 4:20.
Now 420 is a way to self-identify (how many craigslist ads for roommates have you seen designating “420 friendly”?) and proclaim your support for the cannabis movement. (April 20, also happens to be Adolf Hitler’s birthday, but keep that beside the point when you celebrate tomorrow.)
Happy blazing, and happy 420!