The History of 420: How April 20th Became a Cannabis Celebration Day

woman making a cloud of smoke outdoors

Smoker or not, we’re all aware of 420, the unofficial holiday where everything cannabis is celebrated. But have you ever stopped to think about how your fav day came to be? Settle in, because we’re going back in time to discover the origin of 420.

420 Speculation

The history of cannabis celebration day is a bit…hazy, so to speak. There’s a lot of speculation all over the internet and social media over how it originated. Some have claimed it’s from the police code for possession. Some say it comes from the number of active chemicals in cannabis. Others believe it came from a song from a legendary singer-songwriter. But none of those stories have proven to be true.

The Real History of 420

So, what’s the real tea about the birth of 420? It all started at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California in 1971 with a group of five students who called themselves the “Waldos” for where they sat at their school.

The Waldos had learned of an abandoned cannabis plant in the woods and were given a map leading to the product (allegedly by the plant’s owner). Each day after classes and football practice, they’d meet up at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their high school to smoke and search for the free herb. And the time they met up? 4:20 p.m., of course.

They’d use the term 4:20-Louis, later shortened to 4:20, so they could discuss cannabis without their parents or teachers knowing what they were talking about.

The Origin of 420’s Popularity

That explains the history of 420, but you’re probably wondering how the phrase gained popularity. After all, it was a well-kept secret among some teens in Northern California. You can thank the rock band, Grateful Dead for that. The brother of one of the Waldos was a close friend of their bassist, leading the group to hang out in the band’s circle. The band began to use the Waldos’ phrase, and “420” spread throughout their community.

But the widespread recognition of 420 didn’t happen overnight. For that, we’re actually going to jump to the 1990s. Steven Bloom, a reporter for the cannabis magazine High Times was at one of the band’s concerts and was handed a flier telling people to “meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Bridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” High Times published it, and the rest is history!

How the History of 420 is Celebrated

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The origin of 420 is celebrated differently all over the globe, but the one thing that always remains: some sweet herb. Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill in San Francisco has thousands gather each year for a huge 4/20 event. Others have music festivals and smoke-outs. 

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