The Origins of 420


Happy Holidaze everybody!!  You don’t have to be a stoner to know that 420 is a reference to weed.  Whether it’s 4:20 pm or today, 4/20, cannabis and hemp consumers rejoice in the numerical significance.  But how did this come about?  What are the origins of 420?  I’ve always had a couple guesses, but have never actually bothered to look it up.  (Four grams for $20?  Is it a fraction, four over twenty? Why this number?).  Today, I was determined to find out once and for all where 420 actually came from and let me tell you, I could never have guessed at the fascinating origins of 420.  So sit back, light up, and let me tell you the lore of the year’s chillest holiday.

That 70’s Bro

We’re gonna journey all the way back to 1971.  Hair was long, “Stairway to Heaven” was a new song, and pot was totally illegal in every state.  Our story begins with five high school buds in Marin County, California (because of course 420 came from California).  Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich used to meet at 4:20 pm to smoke.  They gathered at a wall near their school’s statue of Louis Pasteur, and even became known as “Waldos”.  4:20 was the ideal time to partake because after school activities were usually finished by then.  

But how did the smoking ritual of some teenage boys become a nationally recognized tradition?  Former Waldo Dave Reddix later scored the gig of a lifetime as a roadie for none other than Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh.  Reddix shared his reefer routine with the crew, and the idea took off.  Almost twenty years after he and his friends began smoking at the wall after school, the concept of 420 would go public.  On December 28, 1990 Deadheads at that evening’s Oakland show distributed flyers that encouraged people to smoke on 4/20 at 4:20 pm.  

High Times

How was a flyer to make its way across the nation in the pre-internet days?  As fate would have it, one of these iconic flyers fell into the possession of Steve Bloom while he attended the show.  At the time, Bloom was a reporter for High Times magazine.  In 1991, High Times published the flyer in one of its issues, and thus the association of 420 with pot smoking began.

The flyer begins with a claim that 420 “started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress”.  This is one of the origins of 420 rumors I think we’ve all heard.  This is actually false.  Maybe this was just an easier thing to say on a flyer than to explain about the Waldos?  It was clearly something that would be easy enough to remember and repeat as the myth is still around to this day.  Regardless of factual error, the mission of the flyer was clear: they wanted everyone to come together and indulge in their favorite plant at the same time.  

The flyer encouraged people to “meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais”.  It ended with the message to “take extra care that nothing is going to go wrong within that minute.  No heavy winds, no cops, no messed-up lighters.  Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore”.  

The Origins of Your 4/20

So the real origins of 420 involve high school students in 70’s California and the Grateful Dead, which, to be honest, shouldn’t surprise any of us.  420 spread across the nation via good, old fashioned journalism when the now legendary flyer was published in High Times magazine.  You can finally put all those other rumors to rest, and revel in this fun piece of stoner history.  

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