Happy 420 Day: The Surprising History Behind The Global Cannabis Celebration

Thursday, April 20 marks the annual cannabis celebration 420. With fans of the drug in North America and around to world set to celebrate en masse, there is still confusion over the meaning of the celebration, and theories on where the term originated abound.

While some claim the term comes from the police code "420" meaning "marijuana smoking in progress," others have linked the name to dictator Adolf Hitler's birthday, which was on April 20. The most widely accepted theory, more plausibly, stems from the notoriously eclectic band The Grateful Dead.

Happy 420 Surprising History Behind Celebration
Marijuana fans the world over are set to celebrate 420 on Thursday. [Image by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Images]

Legend has it, Dave Reddix, a roadie for the band, coined the term during high school in the 1970's when he would regularly meet up with several of his friends after school at 4:20 to smoke marijuana. Reddix and his friends would reportedly use the code '420' to each other throughout the day to make plans for that afternoon. After Reddix's brother helped him get a job with the band, the term quickly caught on through the circle of Grateful Dead fans, or, "Deadheads," a group that has long been synonymous with the drug.

The name really took off in 1990 when the band released a flyer inviting fans to smoke "420" with them at 4:20 P.M on April 20. A flyer reportedly found its way to Steve Bloom, a reporter from weed-centric publication High Times who published the flyer in the magazine and continued to use 420 to reference the drug.

TIME tracked down Reddix and interviewed him on the eve of the celebration. When asked about the significance of the time 4:20, Reddix had a surprisingly simple answer. He explained that school finished at 3 p.m., with sports practice immediately after, so by the time Reddix and his friends were finished with their daily commitments, it was around 4:20 p.m.

Reddix went on to explain the factors that lead to the creation of their cannabis club.

"We got tired of the Friday-night football scene with all of the jocks. We were the guys sitting under the stands smoking a doobie, wondering what we were doing there."
Around the country and the world, stoners and marijuana enthusiast alike get ready to celebrate the annual event on Thursday, April 20. While in the past this may have meant mayhem and chaos for police, the growing acceptance of marijuana across North America and parts of the world mean the majority of those celebrating run little risk of punishment or arrest.

USA Today report that the sheer size of the crowds that gather on College Campuses and public spaces to observe the celebration mean that even those states that have not yet legalized the recreational consumption of weed are likely to turn a blind eye come Thursday.

Happy 420 History Behind Celebration Canada Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced plans to decriminalize recreational use of marijuana in the country. [Image by Richard Drew/AP Images]

With numerous states across the US and all of Canada reducing or abolishing penalties for recreational use of the drug, large numbers of "green tourists" are reportedly arriving in more relaxed states ready to celebrate on Thursday. Speaking to self-proclaimed "bud tender" Jason Coleman, USAToday report that many Denver, Colorado area marijuana dispensaries are preparing for record sales. Coleman, a worker at popular Denver dispensary Medicine Man said he expected the store to double their normal sales in the days leading up to 420.

South Carolina tourist Catherine Heelan described the mood in Colorado compared to her home state.

"For people like me, it's mind blowing. There's no shame. The stigma and shame is gone here. No one looks down on you."
Meanwhile, political activists are also using the occasion to protest federal government interference with state-level legislation regarding the legalization of marijuana for medical uses. The demonstration aims to hand out 1,000 joints to workers on Capitol Hill before holding a mass "smoke-in" on the Capitol steps next Monday.

[Featured Image by Brennan Lindsley/AP Images]