420 is a common word in cannabis culture, with several meanings, beliefs, and messages buried in popular culture. In its most basic form, the phrase refers to cannabis usage and cannabis culture.

420 refers to both a time to use cannabis (4:20 p.m. and/or a.m.) and a day (April 20) to celebrate cannabis internationally. 420 has also been used as an abbreviation signifying a degree of acceptability for cannabis usage, culture, and lifestyle.

What is the meaning of the number 420? 

The most commonly acknowledged origin myth is that of a group of San Rafael High School pals known as the Waldos because they frequently hung out by a wall outside of their school. They came up with the name in 1971 to describe their after-school searches for a rumored stash of marijuana that US Coast Guardsman Gary Newman had sown and was supposedly growing somewhere near Point Reyes.

According to folklore, Newman’s brother-in-law left the Waldos a treasure map and told them that if they found the marijuana crop, it was theirs to keep. The Waldos dubbed the operation “420 Louis,” a disguised invitation to meet at the monument to Louis Pasteur in front of school at 4:20 PM following sports practice. The slogan was eventually abbreviated to “420,” and even though they stopped seeking the mysterious weed, the moniker stayed.

When Steven Hager, the editor of High Times magazine, published an article in May 1991, he attributed the phrase to Grateful Dead fans and championed the usage of 4:20 as the socially acceptable hour for cannabis use and 4/20, or April 20th, as the day of celebration.

On December 28, 1990, a group of Oakland “Deadheads” distributed leaflets at a Grateful Dead event, asking attendees to smoke “420 on April 20th at 4:20 PM.” Hager acquired one of these posters and later published it in the May 1991 edition, promoting 4/20 as a “stoner holiday.” The Waldos were named the “inventors” of 420 by High Times in 1998. The Waldos have a website dedicated to their origin story, complete with films and documentation to back up their claims.

Myths about the number 420 

Some of the most common and popular conversations about 420 center on its origins. When the Waldos’ narrative was revealed and (largely) acknowledged as the actual origin of the code word, some of the most prevalent myths were:

The criminal code of California 

A frequent misconception is that California police officers utilize the criminal code 420 to report marijuana smoking. There isn’t any evidence to back up this claim. In reality, blocking access to public lands is a misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 420.

Cannabis Chemicals 

Another widely held idea is that cannabis contains 420 active compounds, including CBD, the plant’s second-most abundant and nonintoxicating cannabinoid. This idea is false since cannabis contains over 500 active compounds.

Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Ladies Nos. 12 and 35” 

A lesser-known idea deconstructs the title and lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Ladies #12 and 35.” “Everyone must get stoned,” Dylan sings throughout the song. But the theory’s lesser-known component contains the 12 and 35 parts of the title: 12 x 35 is 420.

International holiday, protest day, and other activities 

April 20 has been designated as a cannabis national holiday, encouraging people to push for its legalization, normalize its usage, educate themselves on all things cannabis and hemp-related, and enjoy its culture. Once seen as a counterculture day of protest, the growth of cannabis legalization and awareness has turned 4/20 into a hybridized worldwide movement fueled by mainstream commercialism. Even cannabis-averse newcomers to 420 have begun to celebrate the event using non-intoxicating CBD rather than THC, thanks in part to its rising popularity as a result of the 2018 US Farm Bill and the WHO’s 2019 declaration on its safety.

As cannabis becomes more mainstream and marijuana income climbs, media journals and channels have begun to cover 4/20 as a consumer interest subject. As legalization spreads, the number of 4/20 rallies, trade shows, concerts, and other events has begun to climb.

The Cannabis Cup in Denver has become one of the most well-known 420 events in the cannabis industry.

Thousands of people congregate on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to celebrate cannabis with hemp-woven items, glasswork, weed-inspired art, music, and — more recently — authorized use.

4/20 is informally celebrated by Canadian cannabis aficionados atop Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario; the Mount Royal monument in Montreal; the Alberta Legislative Building in Edmonton, Alberta; and the Vancouver Art Gallery and Sunset Beach in Vancouver.

420 in political science and policy 

The Center for Drug Abuse Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an online paper titled “It’s 4:20: Do you Know Where Your Teen Is?” in 2001. California sponsored Senate Bill 420 in 2003 to regulate medicinal marijuana usage, naming it after the 420 of cannabis culture. Another effort, Bill 420, failed to legalize cannabis in Guam in 2010.

The number 420 in popular culture 

420 has been frequently referenced in several films and television programs, most commonly as planned inside jokes for viewers to discover. Other overt references to 420 include the April 20 release of marijuana-related works (songs, episodes). Among the most common allusions are:

  • The World of Pulp Fiction: All of the clocks on the pawnshop’s wall are set to 4:20 in one of the film’s most memorable sequences.
  • The 12th episode of Family Guy’s seventh season was titled “420.”
  • The episode aired on April 19, 2009, a day before 4/20, and featured a narrative about cannabis legalization. Nelson, Willie: Nelson released a song named “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” off his album “Heroes” on April 20, 2012.

420 in action 

While the holiday of 420 is celebrated on April 20th, you may celebrate every day of the year by consuming and enjoying cannabis. It’s never been simpler to learn about cannabis products and locate a dispensary near you. The breadth and depth of knowledge might be overwhelming at first, but keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re new to cannabis or have decades of expertise. There is a place for everyone in the cannabis world.