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At some point or another, 420 became code for marijuana consumption. Pot smokers in the office may share a sly smile when the clock hits 4:20 pm.
Some cannabis enthusiasts even go out of their way to celebrate April 20th each year, and head shops have special sales on that day. If you’re lucky, certain hosts and Airbnb rentals are “420 friendly.” But where did all of this tradition come from? What is the real 420 origin? Take a look at the theories below and try to guess which one started them all!
Table of Contents
Theory #1: Calling in the Crime
The first theory is that 420 is the police radio code for marijuana possession or consumption (“All units, please respond, 420 in progress”).
Theory #2: Bob Marley’s birthday
This theory states that April 20th is Bob Marley’s birthday, and the date was commemorated to celebrate the man who made smoking marijuana part of his public image as he reigned the music industry.
Theory #3: Everybody Must Get Stoned!
In Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35, one line stands out: “But I would not feel so all alone, everybody must get stoned!” This theory stems from that line and the fact that 12 x 35 = 420.
Theory #4: Buds looking for Bud
The fourth theory is about a group of high school students who would meet at 4:20 pm to search for an abandoned marijuana crop near their hometown.
Theory #5: Legalization Bills
This theory states that the U.S. Congress bill surrounding the legalization of marijuana was titled Bill 420.
Alright, take some time and mull it over. Which theory do you think best describes the origin of 420 as a marijuana reference?
And the answer is:
Theory #4(20)! But before we examine it further, let’s break down the truth behind theories 1, 2, 3, and 5.
The first theory, that 420 is the police radio code for marijuana possession or consumption, is false. Depending on location, 420 can mean many different things, such as homicide (Las Vegas) or juvenile disturbance (San Diego).
The second theory is just plain wrong. Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, and died on May 11, 1981. No 420 connection there.
Although the third theory is quite creative, it is not true. Bob Dylan never boasted a connection to the origins of the term 420.
Finally, the fifth theory ties in 420’s origin with the bill proposed in the U.S. Congress to legalize marijuana. The closest connection here is California Senate Bill 420, which established guidelines for medical marijuana consumers in 2003. Close, but no hemp cigar.
The real 420 origin
Using the term “420” to refer to marijuana-related activities actually started in 1971 at San Rafael High School. The Waldos, a group of high school students (who frequently hung out on a wall outside of the school), learned of an abandoned plot of marijuana plants. One of them even managed to find a hand-drawn map that would supposedly lead them to the sprouting treasure.
All of the athletes, the young men agreed to meet after various practices on school grounds before getting high and driving off to search for the bounty. Their meeting spot was beneath a statue of Louis Pasteur. Their meeting time was, you guessed it, 4:20 pm.
During the school day, the friends would remind each other between classes of their plans that afternoon, saying, “4:20 Pasteur.” Over time, as the search continued, they dropped the esteemed scientist and simply used “420” to communicate their plans.
The Waldos never did find the elusive patch, but they did find a new way of communicating with one another. “420” developed well beyond the search: simply dropping the term between one another was a way of communicating, “Do you want to go for a smoke?” “Do you have any on you?” “Are you high right now?” or even, “Can you tell I’m baked?”
Still, that doesn’t explain how the term spread to become a universal phrase for marijuana consumption. That’s where a little band called the Grateful Dead comes into play. The Waldos were connected to the band through one of the group members, who was good friends with Phil Lesh and managed one of the Dead’s sidebands, as well as through the father of another group member, who managed the band’s real estate. The Waldos would hang out while the band practiced and even attended parties and shows backstage.
Not surprisingly, marijuana was as much present backstage at Grateful Dead shows as it was in the audience. While band members, stagehands, roadies, and groupies ran around behind the scenes, joints were passed around. The Waldos kept their phrase alive, saying “420” the way one might say “Here you go.” And at one time or another, it must have stuck.
So there you have it. Astound your friends, impress your enemies, and try to remember all of these details if you’re telling the 420 origin story while you’re totally baked.