What is 420?
420, 4:20, 4/20, four-twenty. You may have heard the term used in many different ways. Whether it’s a time of day or an entire lifestyle for you, 420 is what binds the smoking community together. Though it originally spread as a hive-mind internal cuckoo clock for smokers, the term now refers to the ongoing fight for nationwide legalization and the spread of accessible information within both the medical and recreational communities. If you’re passing the pipe or rallying for your freedom, “420” is all you’ve got to say to let people know that you know what’s up.
The origin story of 420 is admittedly a little bit muddied. Some say that it comes from the number of chemical compounds in cannabis. This is a bit of a stretch -- there’s anywhere from 300 to 500 compounds in a strain. Others have said that it coincides with the 4:20 pm tea time in Holland. That would be pretty rad, except no such tea time exists. Others have said that it must stem from Adolf Hitler’s April 20th birthdate. Generally, there is no evidence or cohesive argument to support this.
Clearly, people will ascribe whatever myth they want to the 420 story. People have incorrectly said it is the date that Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix died, although once again all of these are untrue. Once, when asked on tour, the Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh attributed it to a police code in San Rafael, California, which meant “smoking in progress.” While no such police code exists, San Rafael is the true origin spot of the 420 phrase, and The Grateful Dead plays a key role in its spread.
The 420 Legend
The true 420 story comes from a couple of high schoolers in San Rafael, California in the early 70’s. The group called themselves the Waldos, since they loved leaning against and hanging out near walls. One afternoon after school, the group decided that they were going to go out on a search for an abandoned patch of marijuana that they had heard was left by a retired member of the US Coast Guard. They agreed to meet up at 4:20 pm after their extracurricular activities had concluded. They met by the school’s statue of Louis Pasteur, where they would pre-emptively smoke before driving around and smoking some more while they looked for the mythic abandoned marijuana patch to smoke from. Truly a heartwarming tale for the ages.
The Waldos searched for the abandoned patch for weeks, but it was never found. However they continued to use their new code phrase to signal that it was time to smoke: “4:20 Louis,” and eventually just “4:20.” This all came about around the time that The Grateful Dead relocated to San Rafael. One Waldo’s older brother was managing a Grateful Dead sideband and became close friends and smoking buddies with Lesh, giving the Waldos full backstage access to Grateful Dead shows.
Here the phrase spread through the Grateful Dead community until it was used on a tour poster in the 80’s, where High Times caught wind of the phrase. From here it grew into the phenomenon it is today, whether it’s part of your social media handle or part of your tattoo sleeve. The Waldos still maintain and are proud of their contribution to the community, and even keep their old tie-dyed flags and memorabilia in a bank safety deposit box. The people at the bank know and recognize them when they come in. They are the Waldos.
On 4/20, smokers come out in droves to show support for cannabis culture and the legalization movement. The California Senate Bill 420, also known as the Medical Marijuana Protest Act, was named by Senator John Vasconcellos with the movement in mind. Other activist groups, such as NORML, also coincide events and meetings with 4/20. In early 2016, Bill Maher called for a protest smokeout outside of the White House on 4/20/2016 to put the pressure on President Barack Obama to legalize marijuana at the federal level during his last year in office. Though the protest was moved up to 4/2, the spirit still remains.
Elsewhere, the nation parties. 420 Fest will be in Denver, Colorado for 2016 after last year in Seattle, Washington. Sweetwater 420 is another 420-inspired event happening down south in Atlanta, Georgia. No matter where you are in the continental US, there’s something 420-inspired out there for you. And you can always check out Smoke Cartel to get prepped for you own celebration -- we’ve got all of the gear you could ever need!