420: The symbolism, origin, and legend behind the number that’s known worldwide.
420. In the world of weed, these three numbers hold a lot of meaning. Whether it’s simply 420, 4:20 as a time of the day, or the date 4/20 each year, 420 is sacred to stoners throughout the world.
What is 420, exactly? Why does it mean so much to cannabis enthusiasts, and what are the origins of the meaning behind the number?
Simply put, 420 (pronounced “four-twenty”) is a code term for consuming cannabis. Can’t be candid about what you’re doing later? Simply say “420” and those who need to know will understand.
But just ask anyone who regularly tokes and you’ll find out that there’s so much more to 420. 4:20 is the best time to relax and have a smoke. 4:20 in the afternoon or 4:20 in the morning, you ask? When it comes to 420, the answer is whatever works for you. And even if it’s not 4:20 where you are, it’s always 4:20 somewhere!
April 20th – 4/20 in American format, has become an international celebration of all things cannabis. On this counterculture holiday, some folks gather just to consume marijuana, get high, and have loads of fun. For others, the day takes on a more political tone and they use it to plan events to educate and advocate for cannabis legalization. Events are held in the U.S. and around the world, from London to Dunedin and New Zealand.
420 Celebrations Around the World
If you want to get in on the annual 420 action, here are some of the best places to get pie-eyed, listen to great music, and celebrate with like-minded individuals. Start planning a trip now; 4/20 is always just around the corner!
San Francisco, California
Let your hippie flag fly high as you hang out on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park near the iconic Haight-Ashbury. While it’s not a formally-organized gathering and public consumption of marijuana remains illegal in the state of California, the authorities typically allow this smoke out/celebration to take place without disturbing its participants. By 1 p.m., the crowd has gathered and by 4:20, they’ve hit a drumming, smiling, toking frenzy.
When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in January of 2014, it set Denver up for some pretty phenomenal 420 partying. Denver is, after all, known as the “Mile-High City”. Part party and part trade show, the Denver 420 Festival is the perfect place to spend your 420 holiday. Dance to reggae bands, purchase dank bud, and peruse a marketplace of more cannabis-themed products than you can imagine. Enjoying all of this with the fresh Colorado air and the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains beckoning – that, my friends, is pure heaven.
Ah.. what 420 list would be complete without Amsterdam? Of course, you can visit any day of the year and peacefully smoke up at one of the cannabis coffee shops there. However, the Amsterdam 420 Festival held outside City Hall is something to see. There’s music, dancing, and a protest smoke-out organized by NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). During the years where there hasn’t been a formal festival put together, people gather in Vondelpark for a quiet smoke-out gathering. Do a bit of online research before you go to find out where to seek out the crowds (or simply look around for large plumes of smoke rising in the distance).
If you’re in the UK next April 20th, head to London and set up in Hyde Park for one of the world’s best-known 420 activities. Thousands of people gather there to hear amazing bands and celebrate all there is to love about ganja. Keep in mind that cannabis isn’t legal in the UK and festival-goers have been arrested in the past, so use caution and common sense.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Over 10,000 people attend Vancouver’s 420 festival each year, gathering near the beach to listen to music, attend the world’s only open-air cannabis farmer’s market, and learn about cannabis, ongoing legislation, and activism opportunities. Billed as the “biggest protest festival in the city”, the event has continued to grow every year.
The Beginning of the 420 Legend
How did all of this 420 hysteria begin? Where did the code phrase come from?
The origin of the term has taken on a mythical quality in the stoner world. Add to this the fact that those who have been tasked with passing down such myths have unclear, smoke-tinged memories of those days and.. Well, let’s just start with the theories.
The most popular theory about the phrase is that “420” is law enforcement radio code for “Red alert! Pot-smoking in progress!” It’s a seemingly simple explanation, but it’s just not true. Many people assume that 420 is the number of chemicals in cannabis – also not true. Another 420 falsehood is that the number signifies the date of Bob Marley’s birthday (which is actually February 6, so not even close, folks).
In order to get to the beginning of the 420 origin legend, we have to cut through the haze and go all the way back to 1971, when a particular group of teens were students at San Rafael High School.
The guys Larry, Dave, Steve, Jeff, and Mark – named themselves the Waldos because they used to hang out next to the wall of their school. Clever, huh? Somehow, the group got wind of a Coast Guard service member who had planted and abandoned a crop in the woods near the Coast Guard Station on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The Waldos found it unthinkable that this crop should be left forlorn and untended, so they bravely vowed to seek it out and claim it as their own.
Each day, the boys would meet at 4:20 in front of the Louis Pasteur statue in the schoolyard. From there, they would load up, à la Scooby Doo and the gang in the Mystery Machine, and head off to hunt for the missing marijuana, smoking it up the entire time. When they’d see each other in the school halls throughout the day, they referred to their covert operation as “4:20 Louis”. Over time, they shortened it to “4:20”. Eventually, the phrase evolved into a code word to refer to simply smoking weed.
The Waldos never did find the secret marijuana crop, but they had many adventures driving around, getting lost and incredibly stoned while looking for it. And thus, an important part of the cannabis lexicon was born.
No marijuana legend would be complete without an equally-legendary musical influence. Enter the Grateful Dead. When hard drug users and criminals took over Haight Ashbury, the Dead moved to San Rafael. Waldo Mark’s father managed real estate for the band and Waldo Dave’s older brother was friends with Phil Lesh, their bassist. The Waldos found themselves hanging out with them and listening to them practice for hours on end. Eventually, the band picked up on the term.. and the rest is history.
At some point, High Times magazine also started using it and the gospel of 420 was thus spread around the world. In the late 90’s, the Waldos contacted the magazine with their story and showed them proof (in the form of letters and an old, handmade 420 flag) that their group originated the phrase. While others have come forward with this same claim to fame over the years, the Waldos are widely recognized as the founders of 420.
Over the years, the 420 phenomenon has become almost cult-like. Signs with the number on it are regularly stolen, much to the disgust of law enforcement. After repeatedly replacing the 420 mile marker sign on Interstate 70 just out of Denver, the Colorado Department of Transportation was finally forced to put up one that simply read “419.99”. Departments of transportation in other states have adopted similar strategies. Officials in the state of Minnesota changed the signs for “420 St” to read “42x St” in an attempt to stop the thievery. In other states, officials have simply thrown up their hands and spray painted their 420 mile markers on the roadside pavement.
And now you know the backstory. The next time you say “420” because you can’t talk openly about your favorite pastime, you can use the phrase knowing the full power of the legend behind it. The next time you light up at 4:20 or on 4/20, take a puff in honor of five guys who simply wanted a little fun, a little adventure, and a lot of smoke.
Bonus: A bit of trivia for you to trade with friends during your next 420:
• In Pulp Fiction, all of the clocks are set to 4:20
• When voters approved medical marijuana in California, the bill was named SB420.
• While Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix were not born on 4/20, Adolf Hitler was.
• In 2014, Easter fell on 4/20 and was renamed “Weedster” by devout potheads everywhere.