Four-twenty, or “420,” is more than a mere date. It extends beyond a simple time of the day. It’s a manifestation of the plant itself. In a digital world of social media shortcuts, 420 is the perfect symbol of all things cannabis. A terse four-character text message, “420?,” is probably the most efficient means of asking a friend if they want to get high.
Fans of the culture tend to smoke up at 4:20 pm. Millions around the world celebrate the kind herb on April 20 when they gather for rallies, smoke outs, trade shows, and backyard bar-be-ques. But how did this term truly originate? Who is to thank for this after school afternoon ritual cum national holiday?
Although there are conflicting stories, the only one with any credibility or evidence behind it is from a group from San Rafael, California calling itself the Waldos. In 1971, members of the group had a tradition of meeting at 4:20 pm after school, when they would get high and trod off in pursuit of a mythical pot field based on their possession of a hand-drawn map. The pot field, unfortunately, was never found.
“We were smoking a lot of weed at the time,” said Dave Reddix, known within the group as Waldo Dave, who is now a 59-year-old filmmaker. Said Reddix:
“Half the fun was just going looking for it.”
Based on the group’s geographic location and personal interests, use of the 420 reference spread to the hippy rock band the Grateful Dead. After use of the term became common within the band’s dedicated legion of Deadhead followers, it got some real traction in society.
The next boost to stardom for “420” came when former High Times editor Steve Bloom saw the term defined on a Grateful Dead concert flyer in 1990. This lead to the term being adopted by High Times staff. Because of the magazine’s influence on the culture — and the fact that it publishes both a popular magazine and a website — 420 was truly released into the wild.
While the term no longer holds its ability to act as secret code (it’s commonly recognized), it is a powerful social emblem derived from a pre-internet meme that represents power to the people and everything counterculture.
Epicenters of cannabis celebrations on April 20 include Denver, San Francisco, Toronto, and Vancouver — as well as hundreds of more discrete events across America. Denver, however, has became the de facto center of cannabis celebrational activity, due mostly to the state’s pioneering legal recreational marijuana and its healthy network of cultivation facilities, independent dispensaries, and retail outlets.