The cannabis culture is rife with urban legend. Some of these stories, however, embrace historical reality. The emergence of the “420” holiday in the world of cannabis is more than a marketing campaign or social media fad.
For decades, three simple numbers have served as code for the consumption and celebration of all things marijuana. Fans of this culture often smoke the herb at 4:20 pm. Millions treat April 20 as a holiday, taking off work and participating in everything from rallies and protests to concerts and backyard bar-be-ques.
A four-character text message, “420?,” has become an efficient means of asking a friend if they want to get high. But how did this quirky term originate? What is its true meaning? And who can we thank for it?
Origins of 420
The only tale offering any credibility is that of a group of high schoolers from San Rafael, California, the members of which dub themselves The Waldos.
In 1971, members of The Waldos had a tradition of meeting each day after school at 4:20 pm, when they would get high and trod off in pursuit of a mythical pot field based on their possession of a hand-drawn map (the pot field, unfortunately, never materialized).
“We were smoking a lot of weed,” said Dave Reddix, known within the group as Waldo Dave, who is now a 64-year-old filmmaker. Said Reddix, “Half the fun was just going looking for it.”
Based on the group’s California location, use of the 420 reference spread to the rock band the Grateful Dead. After the term became common within the band’s dedicated legion of Deadhead followers, it began gaining real traction.
The next boost to stardom for 420 came when then-High Times editor Steve Bloom saw the term on a Grateful Dead concert flyer in 1990. This led to the term being adopted by High Times staff. Because of the magazine’s influence on the culture, 420 was released into the wild.
While the term no longer holds its ability to act as secret code due to its commonality and increasing commercial use in legal jurisdictions, it remains a powerful emblem derived from a pre-internet meme that represents power to the people and everything ganja.
Lest the purveyors of pot and 420 forget its humble origins, Reddix reminds readers of how it all began. “The spirit of 420 was friendship, fun, and kindness,” he told Cheddar News on April 19, 2019. “It was a private joke amongst ourselves; somehow it turned into a worldwide phenomenon.”