Why is 420 cannabis holiday?

Published by Veronica An on

Headset, a cannabis-focused data provider, reveals that April 20th is the single biggest day for cannabis sales each year, driving at least double the revenue of an average day. This statistic should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the number 420. But how did April 20 become the slang for cannabis and make April 20 the “high” holiday for cannabis users?

One of the more popular references is to the famous line Bob “everybody must get stoned” from the legendary song “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35.” If you do the math, 12 times 35 is 420 but that seems a bit of a stretch. Who really wants to do math when they’re getting stoned?

According to an article in the Huffington Post, 420 was a police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress in Marin County, California and soon become catchy slang for smoking. But that’s not the end of this winding story.

Enter the Waldos. This self-described group of hippies would meet by San Rafael High School in the 1970s to conduct a search, which they called “safaris” for the holy grail of cannabis.

At this time, cannabis was still very much illegal but that didn’t stop large numbers of young people from getting high. Transgressive hippie culture would be lacking without the background of rock music and the  telltale scent of ganja.

According to popular account, a Coast Guard member had left a treasure map to an untended marijuana crop and this group of friends made it their mission to tend and enjoy the harvest. If this sound like the basis of a feature-length stoner movie, just check out the Waldo’s website. It’s a blockbuster waiting to happen.

But how did this term become mainstream among the cannabis community? Look no further than the Grateful Dead and their loyal following of Deadheads.

A member of the Waldos worked as a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh but is not credited with distributing the 420 flyer that would later appear in High Times Magazine. The Waldos are protective of their status of the inventors of “420” and have an entire page of their website dedicated to documenting the popularity of the term; even citing an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary which references them.

As reported by a High Times Magazine and Celebstoner.com, the first public reference to 420 was on December 28, 1990 in Oakland, California. A group of Deadheads and distributed flyers inviting Deadheads to smoke “420” on April 20 at 4:20 p.m. (which was nothing new). The novel repetition of “420” caught on though.

Reporter Steve Bloom ended up with a flyer which later made its way into a 1991 issue of High Times. The magazine continued to reference marijuana as 420 and thus, this popular term was born; making April 20 the unofficial holiday for cannabis lovers.

Each year, people across the world partake in pot on 4/20 which is nothing if not the high-minded hippie dream of five buds who went to high school together.


Veronica An

Veronica enjoys good food, good company, and good music. She pens poems, short stories, op-ed articles, and non-fiction pieces. Her favorite place to write is under the California sunshine.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: