How Did April 20th Become Marijuana 420 Day?

How Did April 20th Become Marijuana 420 Day?

On April 20, 2021, thousands of Americans assembled to celebrate marijuana. 

April 20, also known as 420, a day dedicated to celebrating the cannabis culture.

Nevertheless, in recent years, the celebrations have become more mainstream and marketed. Consequently, marijuana businesses are seeking new ways to market and sell their products.

This makes today's 420 a far cry from the holiday that was once celebrated by hippies and others who despised capitalism, corporate domination, and consumerism.

Where Did 420 Come from?

The exact genesis of marijuana fans' day of celebration is still unknown. While attending the 420 festivals this year, we approached one man and asked, why today?

With his hands on his sides, he thought for a moment. "I'm not sure where it came from. He responded, "I know rumors and myths." "The first time I heard it, I was completely bewildered. It was almost like a police code for smoking in public. "What is the real story behind it anyway?" he asked.

There are as many different responses as there are different types of medical marijuana in California, depending on who you question and their level of alcohol intoxication. Some say the term—420—refers to the number of compounds in marijuana. In Holland, it's teatime. It has something to do with the birthday of Adolf Hitler. It's the same numbers from Bob Dylan's song amplified by a factor of ten.

But, to put it frankly, the tales about how April 20, or 420, became associated with marijuana are mostly fictitious.

The Waldos Story

The most believable version of the story links 420 to Marin County, California. In 1971, five San Rafael High School students would gather around 4:20 p.m. near their sculpture of the well-known Louis Pasteur to take weed. They picked that time since it was when most extracurricular activities ended. Since they used a wall as their meeting place, the five friends were known as the "Waldos." They'd text each other "420" as a cipher for marijuana.

As Dave Reddix said—one of the Waldos—they always sat under a stand at 4:20, smoking some weed, because they got tired of the Friday night football atmosphere, which was filled with frat boys.

The antics continued until past 4:20 p.m., as well. Under the influence, the group pushed each other to discover exciting things to do, referring to their outings as "safaris."

Later, Reddix's brother assisted him in getting a job as a roadie with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, the band credited with popularizing the term "420."

On December 28, 1990, a group of Oakland Deadheads distributed posters inviting people to smoke "420" on April 20 at 4:20 p.m. One was assigned to Steve Bloom, a veteran staffer for High Times magazine and a cannabis culture expert. In 1991, the magazine printed the flyer and continued to use the number. It soon became a global code for marijuana. The publication confirmed in 1998 that the "Waldos" were the "inventors" of 420.

Bloom, who is now the publisher of, attributes the date's notoriety as an annual meeting of cannabis smokers to the folks who produced the flier. 

The Compounds in Marijuana 

Another argument is that marijuana has 420 active compounds, thus the apparent connection between the number and the drug. But marijuana has close to 500 compounds.

The Oldest Reference

  1. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling's 1939 short story "In the Walls of Eryx" offers another alternative. According to his watch, the account recounts "curious mirage-plants" that got the narrator high around 4:20 a.m. Because the anecdote is from 1939, it may be the oldest published reference to 420.

Relation with Congress or Law Enforcement

There are a few 420 hypotheses about the police and Congress as well. The first, which refers to what police would say over the radio if they saw you buying a pack, is incorrect. Regrettably, that radio code is for homicide.

What about the one about Congress? It's not that the two are unrelated. A measure in the California Senate called 420 is named after the cannabis culture staple, but it's not its origin.

Other Theories That Don't Make Sense

Some people believe it was named after Bob Marley's death date, although he died on May 11. Some speculate that it has something to do with Adolf Hitler's birthday, but why would that be significant? (Even if April 20 is his birthday.)

Finally, an individual once suggested that the optimum day to grow marijuana is April 20, but that depends entirely on where you're planting it.

Whatever the origins of 420, it has undoubtedly become a memorable holiday for cannabis enthusiasts.

420 is becoming a commercial event

Originally, 420 was a hippie movement holiday to protest, at least to an extent, the legal and social stigmas associated with marijuana. However, as big corporations and businesses start to produce, advertise, and market marijuana, 420 is losing its position as a hippie culture symbol — and this could spell the end of the classical countercultural holiday.

If the commercial marijuana industry espouses 420, it wouldn't be perceived with the same cultural meaning, although people would still celebrate it.

Marijuana and alcohol companies are now using the holiday to promote and market their products. We've witnessed the institution of events such as the Cannabis Cup that feature notable musicians such as 2 Chainz. These offer celebrities and their businesses to push their brands and products.

With this popularization, the industry will continue to grow. Most companies will leverage this wave and the imminent legalization of marijuana across the country to create wealth.

Thus, 420 is a perfect example of societal shift—from being a counterculture symbol created by hippies to being a sellable commodity that companies can use to create wealth.
Back to blog