Today is 4/20! April 20, if you’re not a pot smoker, is just another day. But in cannabis culture, this date – the fourth month, 20th day = 4/20 – is the community’s Christmas. That’s because the pot-smoking subculture has long used the phrase “four twenty,” and the time, 4:20 (a.m. or p.m., it doesn’t matter), as a sort of verbal shorthand.
So what does it all mean, and how did it all come about?
Unlike so many urban legends, the association between pot and 420 is an actual thing, with actual historical evidence to back it up. Or at least, you can take the word of five graying men in their 60s who claim they came up with it.
As NBC News reports, way back in 1971 there was a group of five guys at San Rafael High School in suburban San Francisco. The boys – Steve Capper, Larry Schwartz, David Reddix, Jeff Noel, and Mark Gravich – would meet behind a certain wall on campus each day to toke up. Calling themselves “The Waldos” because of where they met to smoke, somehow the boys came into possession of a treasure map of sorts, which supposedly showed where an abandoned garden of cannabis plants could be found. Naturally, the Waldos were interested in finding it. So one day, not long afterward, they met at a statue of biologist Louis Pasteur at 4:20 p.m. after football practice was over to make their first of many scouting trips to find the mysterious Garden of Doobie. They never found it – surprise, surprise.
Nevertheless, they kept looking, meeting each day at 4:20, says Reddix. What’s more, they would say “420 Louis” each day as a coded signal that they were going to meet at the statue at 4:20 to look for the garden. Then, after giving up on finding the Garden of Bud, “420 Louis” just became shorthand for “let’s get high.”
“We thought it was a joke then. We still do.”
Years later, Reddix and his older brother, who just happened to be friends with Grateful Dead drummer Phil Lesh, started hanging out backstage with the band. Reddix and the Waldos continued to use the phrase “420 Louis” as code for planning to get high. It caught on with the Grateful Dead (and their roadies and groupies), and from there – well, the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, the “Louis” part eventually got left out.
Nowadays, the phrase exists in the hoary netherworld between being a useful colloquialism in a thriving sub-culture to being an overplayed joke that everyone is tired of.
And in some instances, the joke stopped being funny a long time ago. Just ask the Colorado Department of Transportation. Mile Marker 420, at the eastern edge of the state along I-70, had to be replaced with one reading 419.99 because people kept stealing the 420 one, according to a 2014 Denver Post report.
Because it was so frequently stolen, in 2013 the Colorado DOT replaced I-70’s MILE 420 sign with a MILE 419.99 marker 1/100th of a mile west pic.twitter.com/BpsL77vulM
— Vsauce (@tweetsauce) December 20, 2016
On a slightly more serious note, April 20 has become a sort of political holiday as well, as it’s a day on which marijuana advocates gather across the country to advocate for legalization in their own states as well as at the federal level.
So if you see a gathering of stoners today advocating for change or just getting their buzz on and wonder why today, now you know.