April 20 is the climax of cannabis culture. It’s a holiday meant to celebrate marijuana in all of its glories and forms, for newbies and seasoned veterans alike. What started as a time to light up has evolved into a massive holiday; it’s a time for the subculture to spark up as they appreciate the impact of bud in their lives. The day is also a source of mystery, as its origins — until recently — have been unknown, surrounded by wacky myths and theories.
In reality, 4/20 was started in the early 1970s in San Rafael, California. Some fans of the Grateful Dead–they called themselves Waldos, straying from the Dead Head persona–met daily at 4:20 p.m. to smoke weed after school. Though they originally intended to meet at 3 p.m., they had to wait for a number of friends to get out of sports practice or after-school clubs; they’d all meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur to meet and smoke. Their tradition spread like wildfire, as they suggested to other cannabis enthusiasts that it was the best time to smoke, especially at Grateful Dead concerts and tours. To this day, the concept of 4/20 has blossomed and erupted into a national, even worldwide, celebration of flower in its best form.
Though this story dismantles other 420 origin stories, the rest are still as quirky, clever, and entertaining as ever — perfect to appreciate and laugh over. From ridiculous to not-so-far-fetched, the theories are as diverse as they are interesting, with some elements of truth sprinkled throughout. Here are some of the wackiest 4/20 stories to date.
Some people think that some of the big names in weed smoking died on 4/20, and the holiday arose in their honor, including Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. These pioneers were unafraid to be bold with their bud: They lit up during concerts, wrote controversial lyrics, and became strong voices within the counterculture, unwilling to be silenced. However, these deaths neither took place on the same day, nor were any of them on April 20. Morrison passed away on July 3, Marley May 11, Hendrix September 18, and Joplin on October 4. Though these artists were open and liberal toward their marijuana usage, they have nothing to do with the celebration of 4/20.
There’s a popular theory that cannabis is comprised of 420 chemical compounds, which is incorrect. It’s actually pretty close, however: According to research done by Rudolf Brenneisen, cannabis contains about 483 chemicals, including more than 60 cannabinoids. In a perfect world, the numbers would match and science would support the consumption of marijuana on a specific day. Instead, science supports the idea that cannabis is cool, and worth studying.
A popular rumor is that police use “420” as a numeric code for their radio to report illegal marijuana consumption, especially in populated areas like New York City or Las Angles. And while some regions might use this code referring to possession, it is not specific to marijuana–it’s usually an umbrella code for any type of drug. Sometimes it’s even the code for homicide. Hopefully, this misconception will decline, as more states begin the cannabis legalization process. Also: it’s important to note that California’s penal code 420 is completely unrelated to weed–it instead references public land access restriction.
Since there are different climates and growing seasons that depend purely on climate, it’s impossible for 4/20 to be the best time to plant weed. Even in the United States, there’s diversity in growing seasons and methods. For example, the weather in Colorado has a decent chance of changing on a dime from sunny to snowy in late April, whereas California deals with heat post-February. It would be convenient for marijuana to have this link to 4/20, but plants are on a grow schedule all their own.
Bob Dylan song
Perhaps the cleverest, this origin story is based off the musical stylings of Bob Dylan. He, like many other pioneers of the civil rights era, wrote music to draw attention to important social issues, plus inserting the unity of humanity as a common theme. His song “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35” has a significant line: He croons, “Everybody must get stoned.” Fans and 4/20 theorists have concluded that he started the holiday since the answer to 12 multiplied by 35 is 420. It’s creative, wacky, and also incorrect.
In 2003, California Senate Bill 420 was drafted to create guidelines for medical marijuana usage, including the number of plants and the amount of marijuana a medical consumer could both possess and consume. Though the name has a very specific connotation, it arrived much later in the cannabis cultural timeline to be an origin. It was, however, a stepping stone in the naming process — 4/20 is thrown around in everything from Craigslist roommate ads to newspaper articles to policies. It’s outgrown the counterculture and has seeped into the mainstream, bringing awareness and knowledge to the public in many different ways.
The man known for synthesizing LSD, Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, is a hero to many anti-prohibitionists. A rumor was created–probably to honor his 102 years of life–saying that he took his first deliberate LSD trip at 4:20 p.m. on April 20 in 1943. However chilling that would be, Hofmann has nothing to do with the holiday; weed remains separate from the psychedelic legacy.
A very popular 4/20 story is that the Grateful Dead–the quintessential stoner band and pot culturists–always stayed in Room 420 in hotels while on tour. This rumor has been debunked by a former member, but credit is due to the band, since they inspired the Waldos and have been a major proprietor in April 20-and-beyond celebration. Dead Heads have had a large impact on how 4/20 looks today, and how popular and inclusive it has become.
Smokers do not all light up at exactly 4:20 p.m. in Holland, as this story suggests. Nor was that the time that marijuana was legalized for the first time ever, in Amsterdam. However, it is worth noting that Holland has a history of being relaxed with their drug laws, making it a worldwide destination for people seeking both relief and adventure. As recreation and adult use marijuana laws are being passed throughout the United States, the plane ticket price to get a legal high has decreased incredibly for Americans.
April 20 has been a rough day in history. It’s been the day that Hitler was born, as well as the date of the tragic Columbine school shooting in Colorado. This origin story likely attributes the creation of 4/20 as a way to uplift spirits on such a sobering day. However, both of these events were not relevant to the timeline of weed celebration, rendering the day separate from these horrific moments in time.
The origin story for April 20 as an international cannabis feat is brief and simple, far from some of the fantasies thought up by weed fans and resistors alike. Many of these ideas are original and creative and come from a place of inspiration. Whatever the inception is, 4/20 has a way of bringing people together and inspiring remarkable celebration, and will for years to come.