The History Of 4/20: How April 20 And 420 Became Associated With The Marijuana Holiday

For chronic pot smokers immersed in the weed culture, a clock showing 4:20 (a.m. or p.m. is irrelevant) is a reminder that if they aren’t under the influence of marijuana, they should be. For casual cannabis tokers, the American date display of April 20 — 4/20 — may inspire planned consumption of THC with a few friends while watching Half Baked or a Netflix marathon of Weeds. But few people know the true origin of “420” how and it came to represent the unofficial stoner’s holiday.

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Myths busted

The apparently true history of 420 involves a treasure map and a group of California teenagers from the 70s who called themselves the “Waldos.” As noted by the Star, however, there are a lot of legends, mythical origins, and associations that should be ignored by anyone after the truth.

  • While Adolph Hitler was, indeed, born on April 20, there is no correlation to Hitler and this aspect of pot culture.
  • It has nothing to do with the death of Bob Marley, which actually happened on May 11, 1981.
  • April 20 has not been scientifically proven to be the best day to plant marijuana seeds.
  • Even though 35 x 12 = 420, Bob Dylan’s 1966 song “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” is not an allusion to marijuana.
  • While they are involved in the origin story, the Grateful Dead did not stay in room 420 at every hotel while on tour.
  • Police do not use 420 as an official code for any marijuana-related crimes.


The Truth

As reported by the Huffington Post, the 420 legend started with a U.S. Coast Guardsman named Gary Newman who was in charge of a lighthouse while stationed at Point Reyes in the late 60s. There, he planted marijuana. After leaving active duty and joining the Coast Guard Reserves, he continued to maintain the crop. However, since it was on federal land, he started to become anxious that he would get caught (paranoia comes as no surprise). He drew a map to the unharvested plants and gave it to his brothers-in-law in 1971.

From there, the map was passed around a couple of times until it landed in the hands of one of the Waldos that same year. The Waldos were a group of students from San Rafael High School that were so-named because of the wall they would hang around outside of their school. This group of young marijuana aficionados would meet after school hours at 4:20 to go look for the legendary patch of unharvested weed. So that they could speak about their activities without revealing anything to their parents or teachers, they would simply use “420” as a code. Technically, the original code was “420-Louis,” as they would often meet near the school’s statue of Louis Pasteur. Like so many other slang terms, the shortened version is the one that lasted.

While the Waldos never found the mystery marijuana, their use of “420” continued. One of the Waldos was friends with the bassist from the Grateful Dead. He liked the phrase so much that he and his fellow band mates started using the term themselves. From there, it became a popular phrase among “Deadheads” (Grateful Dead ultra fans). Flyers were made in Oakland for a Deadhead party on April 20 at 4:20. The event was simply labeled “4/20,” High Times picked up on it, and from there, the legend of April 20 being the stoner’s holiday was born.

420 today — April 20, 2016

Pot culture in America (and around the world) has changed considerably since the days of the Waldos and the beginning of 420. Nearly half of the states in America have legalized medicinal marijuana, and a few have even made it legal for recreational purposes. Celebrities are no longer simply partaking of marijuana openly. Legendary smokers like Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson have introduced their own brands of THC-filled hemp.

Whether celebrating by smoking a joint in a public park in Denver, eating brownies at a cafe in the Netherlands, or taking bong hits behind closed doors, you can enjoy the national marijuana knowing the truth behind the 4/20 legend.

[Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images]