420 - The Myths And The Legends Behind It And The True History

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Added 02 April 2021


1. '420' - An Introduction

If there is one term that sticks out in the cannabis lifestyle, that everybody seems to know but with a very highly disputed origin story then it is the term '420'. We all love to attend our Cannabis festival on the 20th of April ( 4/20 in North American notation ) or get together with our buds to smoke some bud when the clock turns 4:20.
Some of these so-called myths and legends have come into broad daylight to mess around with the hazy heads of us who live this lifestyle! How much of it is true? 

We can only wonder where all those fantastical narrations for the origin came from, and the mouth to mouth kept changing it, however, it is outstanding the fact that a simple term grew out to become the unofficial holiday for weed all across the globe that it is today.

Large 420 gathering

2. A few of the myths and legends

Before exposing the truth, let us first take a look at a few of the myths and legends that go around. In a way, these could fit into a folktale category when it comes to the Cannabis culture because this goes from believing it came from the number of active chemicals in Cannabis to thinking it is based on a former police code so when they received a '420' it was a call for 'public cannabis smoking', but this was not the case!

Collagepicture of the myths

Another myth is what probably is the most ridiculous and darkest one of all the stories out there that could relate to '420'. Unfortunately, but just a pure coincidence in history it happens to be the same day Hitler was born... Yes, THE Hitler that caused a global second world war. The fact he had his birthday on April 20th has absolutely nothing to do with Cannabis. And if you think about it, in Germany you write the day before the month so his birthday is written 20.4!

One of the better folktales behind the possible origin is a song written by the legendary 'Bob Dylan' called 'Rainy Day Women Nr. 12 and 35'. Now some are thinking probably, where is the '420' reference in there? But if you multiply 12 by 35 you get 420. And that is not the only thing, there is also a refrain in there called 'Everybody must get stoned', it is one of those classics every stoner should listen to and if you haven't, please do now while reading the rest of this article!

"Bob Dylan - Rainy Day Woman #12#"

3. The Waldos

Somewhere in the early '70s in a high school called 'San Rafael' in California, USA, there was a group of teenagers that went by the nickname 'The Waldos'. This name came from the company of young ones because of always meeting at the same wall around their school at the same time, and you've guessed it, at 4:20 pm. This was mostly because many activities in the school surroundings had ended by that time. However, if you look in this state, 420 is the criminal code for trespassing, so we can kiss goodbye to that myth we mentioned before. 

 The original members of this group are :

  • Mark Gravich
  • Larry Schwartz
  • Jeffrey Noel
  • Dave Reddix
  • Steve Capper

This small group of individuals used '420' as a code for smoking weed among themselves at the beginning, but it is because of the following events that helped the term grow into a global understanding that has lead to us celebrate our lifestyle on the 20th of April each year!

The Waldo's

4. How 420 became a small subculture

The way the term '420' grew in its early days in the '70s has a lot to do with 'The Dead', and no, not dead people, but a band actually called 'The Grateful Dead'. One of the 'Waldos' founding members, Mark, his father had a direct connection to the band at the time, taking care of real estate and such for the band's members. Another one of the 'Waldos', Dave, his older brother was a good friend of the bassist of the band, Phil Lesh. Dave eventually even worked for a while as a roadie for the band when they toured.
Because of the way 'The Waldos' were so closely connected with 'The Dead' it is obvious to understand that on regular occasions such as rehearsals and performances, the term '420' started being passed around along with the joints. 'The Grateful Dead', who became a very successful band and toured all over the world, had grown a subculture on their own and within that culture, '420' became an understanding, a synonym, for weed and weed smoking among all the 'DeadHeads'.

Grateful Dead Logo

"Grateful Dead - Eyes Of The World"

However, it still took more than a decade before the term started growing out of that subculture, and here is how that took place.

5. How 420 became an international term

The first time the term left the subculture of 'The Grateful Dead' is to be found in prints of a 1991 'High Times' magazine where an old flyer is depicted that was handed out by a group of 'DeadHeads' somewhere in Oakland in late December of 1990. This flyer specifically says: 'Smoke pot at 4.20.
Somehow one of these flyers had ended up in the hands of Steve Bloom, who was a 'High Times' writer at the time and now is the publisher behind Celebstoner. He recalls that all this group of potheads wanted to achieve is "to make people get together on the same day to celebrate weed smoking at the same time."

'High Times' kept using this term in its magazine which helped it go 'viral' and by now it became a worldwide synonym for weed smoking, weed-related gatherings and it made it the 20th of April its unofficial holiday that we all love to celebrate!


420 Flyer High Times

A small table summary which can only make us wonder what a different time it was back then, and how things go viral these days :

The '70s The '80s The '90s Today
The Waldos 'secret code' The Waldos -> "The DeadHeads" "DeadHeads" flyer -> High Times Magazine Global term

6. Famous '420' references

Since the birth of the term, there have been countless times where the number appears on the big screen in movies or gets referred to in tv shows or other media outlets. Some are in plain sight and others are more hidden from the public eye. Here are just a few of those :

  • Pulp Fiction: In this all-time classic you can see in different scenes that a few of the clocks in the movie were set to 4:20. Now some believe that all clocks in this movie are set to this but that is not the case!
  • Family Guy: Episode 420, that broadcasted on April 19th, 2009 showed the character Brian after he was arrested for drug possession, which caused him to launch a campaign for legalizing cannabis with help from Stewie.
  • The 420 tweet: CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, from who we all know that he is not an average businessman, the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and so much more once had the brilliant idea of making a tweet that said: "Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured." Not only did this tweet go viral but it made the SEC sue Elon Musk because the tweet misled investors.

'420' grew from a simple code word between a few teenagers in the '70s to what it has become today! We can only hope that one day it will become an official holiday all across the world and with that can only come global legalization!

If you found this article to be useful or informational, feel free to leave a comment down below!

7. References

The haze history of 420 - Brynn Holland ( 2018 )

Here's the Real Reason We Associate 420 With Weed - Olivia Waxman ( 2018 )

What is 420? The meaning and origins behind 'Weed Day' - Independent ( 2017 )


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Hi, thanks a lot for the history of the term 420, in France we've got the June 18, it's a organisation named the C.I.R.C who made this day to celebrate all the culture of Cannabis, they worked since 80's for the legislation of Cannabis, and on june 18 they send a joint to all politics mans in France, and they doing demonstrations in the streets for fighting against old school politics mentality, thx..😘
You are welcome @JoshuaVanMaele, I think 420 will be the date for all the World..👍
@Secretflower,Hi, thank you! And I had no idea that was like this in France, thank you for sharing!
Mooncat 👽 Have a nice 420 my Dudes👻
Hi, 4:20 did write,😷 I look forward to April 4th each year to complete my seed collection from breeders the price split in half, but i didn't go collorado yet, i promise to think about Jack Herer with an enormous Jack Herer Feminized Sensi Seeds conic right in my face so i wich you to a Fantastic 4:20👍👊
I love stoners! What else could make people who have absolutely nothing in common bond? Instantly.
Happy 420 to you all!!!!