If there were one term that paradigmatically represents cannabis culture, the undisputed champion would be 420. So ubiquitous is the term, 4/20 has even become the quintessential pot smoker’s holiday. But, what is the origin of 420? What the heck does it mean and where did the word really come from?
Press most tokers for an answer, and chances are they’ll either give you a blank stare or recite one of the oft-repeated myths. Yes, myths. There are lots of them!
So, let’s first clear up the myths and misconceptions on what is the origin of 420.
420 wasn’t originally a date (although that’s a closer characterization than many of the other misconceptions).
No, 4/20 is not the birthday of the late Bob Marley. (The legendary Bob Marley’s birthday was Feb. 6, 1945.)
Nor was it the day Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, or Janis Joplin died. (Hendrix died on September 18, Morrison on July 3, and Janis died October 4.)
Continuing right along, 420 was never California’s penal code section for illicit marijuana use. (The current penal code for illegal possession of marijuana is 11357, which stipulates possession of more than 28.5 grams of cannabis or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis is illegal.)
Funny enough, however, Gov. Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) signed State Senate Bill 420 on Jan. 1, 2004, regulating cannabis for medical purposes.
No, the Grateful Dead didn’t request to stay in Room 420 when touring. Just ask the band’s spokesman, Dennis McNally. (Technically Dennis is the spokesman for Grateful Dead Productions, not the band. Sans Jerry Garcia, the band no longer tours, although the original members briefly reunited to celebrate their 50th reunion at Chicago’s Soldier Field for the 4th of July weekend in 2015.
Ok, so what Is the origin of 420?
Hold your horses, cowboy (or cowgirl)! We’re almost there!
420 was never the official radio code for public pot smoking in L.A., Oakland, New York (or anywhere else).
420 does NOT refer to the number of chemical compounds in cannabis. Although, the number is close. Scientists have identified roughly 400 chemical entities (of which 66 – 113+ are cannabinoids) in cannabis, a number which continues to grow as scientists are still discovering new chemicals. (Wouldn’t it be funny, though, if the number of chemical compounds ultimately turned out to be 420? It’s possible, although not probable.)
What is the origin of 420? Well, it also doesn’t refer to the “best day of the year” to plant (or harvest) cannabis. The best time to plant pot (outdoors) depends on numerous factors which can vary significantly from state to state or country to country.
But, yes, the infamous patriarch of LSD, Albert Hofmann, did take his first (intentional) hit of acid at 4:20 on 4/19/1943.
So what is the origin of 420, does it refer to Hoffman’s acid experience? Sadly, no. That’s just a kray kray coinkydink.
Ok, I get you can’t take it anymore. Do you want to know the answer: what is the origin of 420?
It all started with a group of potheads from San Rafael High School in Northern California back in 1971. In the Fall of 1971, the group of five kids (who called themselves the Waldos) met after school at 4:20 pm to smoke a little ganja before heading off on a treasure hunt in Point Reyes. The crew had come across a hand-drawn map identifying a plot where pot was being grown. They never found the pot (or the plot), but they established 4:20 as the ritual time to burn herb.
It didn’t take long for the term to catch on. Not only among their schoolmates, but through a few steps removed, the Grateful Dead started using the term unleashing the slang word to legions of fans. Years later in 1990, after one of the editors at High Times, Steve Bloom read on a Grateful Dead concert flyer the explanation for 420. The magazine’s staff started using it, as the most influential cannabis publication of the time, it didn’t take long for every stoner to adopt the term.
There you go! Now you know the REAL HISTORY OF 420. Now go celebrate 4/20 with your newfound knowledge, the knowledge you can proudly share with your friends. Stay safe and enjoy the holiday. And, be sure to check out our 4/20 day deals!