Why 4/20 became a pot smoker’s holiday

Dylan Stableford
·Senior Writer

The calendar may take no notice of April 20, but for marijuana users around the world, it’s an annual day of pot celebration closer to, say, Stoner’s Christmas.

So how did 4/20 become this special day in cannabis culture? And why is the number 420 even associated with marijuana, anyway?

No one knows for sure, but potheads sure have plenty of theories.

One of the most popular is that 420 is the police radio code for marijuana. It’s not. For some police departments, it’s actually the radio code for homicide.

Another is that 420 is the number of chemical compounds in marijuana. That’s not true, either — the actual number is closer to 315, depending on the strain.

What about the theory that Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and its “Everybody must get stoned” chorus served as the origin because 12 times 35 equals 420? Nope. Nice try, though!

A 4/20 celebration in San Francisco
A man smokes marijuana during a 4/20 celebration in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 2010. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The real story of 420 appears to date back to 1971 and a group of hippie high school kids in San Rafael, Calif., who called themselves “the Waldos.”

The Waldos claim they coined the term “420” when they set out to find a rumored marijuana patch planted by a member of U.S. Coast Guard on the Point Reyes Peninsula. For weeks, the group would meet after school at 4:20 p.m. to get high and search for the hidden plants, with the number “420” becoming a secret code of sorts among them.

While they never found the secret stash, the popularity of 420 began to spread, as their classmates picked up on the term. Meanwhile, a brother of one of the Waldos worked for the Grateful Dead and supposedly clued in the band, which began using it themselves. The rest, as they say, is history.

Still, that doesn’t explain this other mystery: How did 4/20 become universally known as the pot smoker’s holiday?

The Waldos themselves don’t even have an answer for that — nor do they dare take credit.

“We have no idea,” Waldo Steve told Yahoo News.

Their use of 420 was never about a day in particular, Steve explained. It was about the time of day.

According to High Times magazine, the idea to honor marijuana on April 20 started in 1990, when a group of Deadheads in Oakland, Calif., sent out flyers inviting people to meet and smoke “420” at 4:20 p.m. on 4/20 — the earliest known record of celebrating pot on that day.

No one has ever stepped forward to claim responsibility for creating the flyer — not that it matters much to the masses of marijuana users who have adopted 4/20 as their chosen day of sativa satiation.

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