You’ll have almost certainly heard the term “420” in use when it comes to the cannabis industry, but what are its true origins? Numerous stories abound about the beginnings of this apparently innocuous phrase, but only one of those tall tales is true. Here, we take a closer look at this pop-culture term and how it managed to grow into such a widespread phenomenon.
The Popular Myths
If you’ve heard the term “420” (and who hasn’t?) you’ve probably also heard at least one of the myths surrounding this mysterious phrase. Fascinating though some of the theories are, they are all entirely wrong. However, they do make interesting reading, so let’s take a look at a few of the most popular misconceptions about 420’s origin story.
The Bob Marley Connection
Bob Marley has long been feted for his cannabis connection, so it isn’t surprising that one of the stories about 420’s origins centers around the famous musician. Many people believe that 420 was the date on which the music star died, however this isn’t the case. In fact, he died on 11th May 1981.
The Hitler Connection
One of the oddest myths which persists about 420’s origins is that it refers to Adolf Hitler’s birthday. That is, in fact true, however that’s just a coincidence. There has never been any legitimate source to prove a connection between Hitler’s birth date and the cultural use of 420.
The Chemical Connection
It sounds plausible that there are 420 different chemical compounds found in cannabis, however there isn’t any scientific proof of this. The exact number of chemicals in cannabis plants remains unknown, with some sources stating that there are about 350 and others saying there are over 400. Clearly, there’s no proven connection there!
The Political Connection
One myth which is almost true is that 420 refers to the number of the House Bill for weed legalization. This is actually accurate – California Senate Bill 420 relates to the removal of the classification of cannabis as a controlled substance. However, there’s a fatal flaw in this connection. That bill wasn’t passed until the year 2003. The term 420 was in use long before that time, as the High Times article from 1991 proves.
The Police Connection
Another myth which sounds very plausible is the persisting idea that 420 is a police code used for marijuana-related crimes. While 420 is a police code used across some jurisdictions, it doesn’t universally relate to marijuana. In fact in Las Vegas, it’s actually the code used for homicide – nothing to do with weed at all.
The Gardening Connection
One of the oddest myths which circulates about 420’s origins is that 20th April is the very best day of the year to plant your cannabis. Anyone who knows anything about gardening knows this couldn’t possibly be the case since the best time for planting weed always depends on the strain, the growing method and where you’re living. For some people, April will be the best time of the year to plant your cannabis seeds, but narrowing down the margins to a single day doesn’t make sense.
The Bob Dylan Connection
For those who love to over-complicate things, the myth that 420 comes from the Bob Dylan song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” in which he sings repeatedly “Everybody must get stoned!”. For maths geniuses out there, it’s true to say that 12 x 35 = 420 but there’s absolutely no evidence to prove that this is 420’s official origin.
420 – The Genuine Backstory
Although many myths and legends have grown up around the origins of the term 420, the true story was finally revealed in The Huffington Post back in 2016. According to the official origin story, 420 started in California in the 1970s at San Rafael High School. A group of friends who styled themselves as “the Waldos” had heard about some weed which had been planted close to the Coast Guard station at Point Reyes Peninsula. Armed with this information and a map of the local area, the group of friends decided to make it their mission to find this mysterious crop. They agreed that they would meet at 4:20pm outside their school at the Louis Pasteur statue, reminding each other through the day when they met in the school hallways by whispering “4:20 Louis”. For several weeks, the friends searched but to no avail. However, even though the cannabis plants never materialized, they carried on using the term “420” as a way of referring to go out to smoke weed, and it became a useful way of hiding their smoking activities from their parents and teachers.
From Inside Joke To Widespread Term
You might be confused about how the phrase “420” managed to reach such widespread acclaim when it began life as an inside joke for a group of high school friends in a corner of California. The answer lies in The Grateful Dead, a rock band that was highly influential during the 1960s. The father of one of the Waldos was responsible for caring for the Grateful Dead’s real estate, while one of their brothers was responsible for managing their sideband. Thanks to this connection, the Waldos were able to hang out with the band in their downtime. The term naturally came up in conversation and so it spread through the community. Even then, it took several more decades for the term to reach mainstream use. It wasn’t until 1991 when the cannabis focused publication High Times reported the story that the wider world finally heard the term “420” and began to use it in everyday conversation.
420 In Use Today
These days, the term 420 to refer to cannabis has become well known around the world, both by users and non-users alike. There are references to the term in books, songs and movies and users worldwide have designated 20th April as a cannabis holiday, getting together to roll the perfect joint and enjoy a smoke to commemorate the occasion. It all just goes to show how a seemingly innocuous term can spread!