Most holidays celebrate religious traditions, changing seasons, important national moments, and old pagan rituals. However, one holiday breaks this mold, celebrating the incredible powers of the cannabis plant, 4/20. Stoners everywhere hold April 20th near and dear to their hearts, taking time to enjoy a sublime high. Many stoners build up a year’s worth of kief in the bottom of their grinders or create a veritable cannabis gauntlet to send them to the stratosphere. Although many of us don’t need an excuse to get high, 4/20 is the perfect excuse to empty one’s stash. But how did a random day in April become associated with cannabis? What is the history of 4/20?
The Urban Legends Of 4/20
Unsurprisingly, no government law made 4/20 a holiday for stoners. Therefore, the history of 4/20 rose out of an assortment of urban legends. Although everyone has their favorite stories, here are a few you may or may not know.
One of the most accepted reasons why 4/20 is associated with marijuana is due to marijuana vaping. Notably, many insist that the ideal temperature for dry vaping cannabis flower is 420 degrees Fahrenheit. Although this is not exactly the truth, vaping cannabis at 420 degrees is almost the highest temperature one can vape bud without combustion. Vaping at temperatures close to combustion activates most of the cannabinoids in cannabis, causing an intense high. Since vaping at 420 degrees is good practice for getting the most out of cannabis flower, many believe it is why 4/20 is such an important date.
During 4/20, we always have that one friend that notes, “Did you know today was Adolf Hitler’s birthday?” Unfortunately, one of history’s most brutal and infamous dictators in human history is also associated with April 20th every year. However, this is just a coincidence. Adolf Hitler was known for many things, but getting high on cannabis was not one of them.
Another bizarre association with 4/20 borders on the wackiness of a conspiracy theory. Bob Dylan was a noted cannabis user, and several references to cannabis made it into his songs. However, some point to his song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” as inspiration for the holiday because 12 multiplied by 35 is 420. Although this is another fun coincidence, it is likely nothing more.
Despite the countless urban legends, there is one generally accepted origin of 4/20, and it revolves around a typical group of high-school stoners.
The Waldos And 4/20
In 1970s California, a group of high school students were hanging out after class. Other students knew them as “the Waldos” because they always leaned against a specific wall on campus after classes. On that day, they inherited a map that supposedly led to a hidden grove of cannabis plants near San Francisco. They decided to meet at 4:20 pm when all of their extra-curricular activities ended and search for the plant. They hopped in their 66′ Chevy Impala and went in search of the hidden grove. Sadly, their search was fruitless, never finding the good green stuff. However, 4:20 became part of their daily lexicon.
The Waldos began using 420 as a code to say they would get baked after class. Passing in hallways, they would ask each other, “420?” and that’s all they needed to say. They would return to the wall that gave them their nickname and smoke a doobie together at 4:20. Although this code makes for a great high school story, how did it become a worldwide phenomenon?
It turns out one of the Waldos brothers knew Phil Lesh, the bassist for the Grateful Dead. Noted stoners themselves, the Grateful Dead are nothing short of stoner legends. Through the family connection, one of the Waldos became a roadie for the Grateful Dead. So, the Waldos would follow the Grateful Dead to all their shows, having all-access passes and even hanging out with the band. Their “420” code remained a part of their vocabulary, and it caught on with the band and their groupies. Soon, the Grateful Dead’s influence spread far and wide, and the number 420 became synonymous with smoking pot. Although there is no way to know for sure, most stoners generally accept this story as the origin of 4/20.
420 And Pop Culture
Pop culture will forever relate 4/20 and cannabis. Due to that relationship, the number 420 pervades modern media, from sly jokes to important moments in cannabis history.
For example, noted internet troll Elon Musk tweeted in 2018 that when Tesla went public, it would open at $420 per share. During a trial in 2023 about misleading investors, Musk claimed that any associations between the share price and cannabis were purely coincidental. For anyone who knows anything about Elon Musk, it’s obvious he’s lying.
Another example is the 420 mile maker on I-70 East in Colorado. Stoners would stop their cars and steal the mile marker to add to their pot paraphernalia. In response to the continued thefts, Colorado changed the mile maker to read 419.99 miles. However, the sign only became more popular in the aftermath, drawing more stoned thieves to steal the sign. As of 2018, the sign was missing and presumed stolen.
The practical jokes bring smiles to many stoned faces, but many political movements associate with 4/20. In cities across North America, stoners will gather together to smoke cannabis, sometimes illegally, in protest of cannabis’ illegality. The most prominent example is in Canada, where stoners will gather at Parliament Hill, the home of the Canadian government. Every year, a gaggle of Canadian stoners peacefully smoke on the Parliament Hill steps on 4/20 at 4:20. This protest played a role in legalizing cannabis in Canada, which the government fully legalized in 2018.
4/20 is a day not only to get stoned, but it is also a call to action. Together, stoners everywhere have the power to transform how cannabis is perceived by society and legislated. From humble beginnings with a couple of high schoolers, 4/20 now means something to every stoner.