How April 20th Became International Cannabis Day
As we get ready to celebrate the holiest of days in the cannabis calendar, it’s important to reflect and take a historical tour back to the roots of our favorite cannabis holiday. We’re talking about 420 of course, the annual celebration of everything cannabis that takes place every April 20th.
420 has become something of a household term with cannabis enthusiasts and transcended from being just a day of the year to something that can be celebrated every day by lighting up when the clock strikes 4:20.
As popular as the term is, most of us are confused as to what the term means (besides it’s time to get high) and where it originally came from. So, in honour of “International Cannabis Day,” let’s find out.
The Origins of 420
We’ve heard answers such as “it’s police code for marijuana smoking in progress,” and “4:20 is teatime in Amsterdam,” or even “the cannabis plant contains 420 active chemicals.” These all sound like plausible explanations but as it turns out none are correct.
To trace the origins of 420, we need to head back in time to the 1970’s and a group of five high school students attending San Rafael High School in Marin County, California. The group of friends and marijuana enthusiasts were known as the “Waldos” referring to their favorite hangout spot by a wall of the school.
One day around harvest time in the fall of 1971, the Waldos heard of an untended plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard Station. The boys wanted to score some free pot and so agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur just outside of their high school. The arranged meeting time was none other than 4:20.
Their initial searches for the crop turned up nothing, so they continued to meet and search every day. They’d pass each other in the halls at school and remind each other to meet at “4:20.” Initially, the codeword was “420-Louis,” but quickly became just “420.”
“We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ’66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week, but never actually found the patch,” said a Steve of the Waldos in an interview with the Huffington Post.
What they did find was a secret codeword for marijuana – from smoking, to buying, to even just being high. Those three numbers were all it took to convey the message without teachers or parents being any the wiser. The Waldos have proof that they coined the term in the form of an ancient homemade 420 flag and many letters (postage stamps attached) referencing 420.
However, while five students in high school have been identified as the origin of the term, it took a lot more publicity to give 420 the exposure it has today.
The story continues…
In the late 1960’s, San Francisco’s hippie movement began to collapse. Fed up with all the drugs, thugs and shady con artists, bands like The Grateful Dead packed up their things and moved to Marin County. This turned Marin County into a sort of “ground zero” for the counterculture and the Waldos were right there with it.
The Waldos were connected to the Grateful Dead in more ways than just proximity. One of the Waldos father’s handled real estate for the band, and the brother of another one was buddies with Phil Lesh, bassist for the ‘Dead.’ The band included not only Phil Lesh, but also guitarist Terry Haggerty and legend of rock David Crosby. The boys would hang out and get high with the bands on a regular basis, using the term 420 all the time. It was catchy and really became popular in the community.
The Grateful Dead’s fame skyrocketed, and with them, the term spread through the “Dead underground.” Phil Lesh (bassist) confirmed that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if 420 began back in San Marin but he couldn’t be sure.
Then cannabis magazine High Times found out about 420 and ran with it.
“I started incorporating it into everything we did, said Steve Hager, editor for High Times magazine. From big cannabis events like the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and even the Cannabis Cup, we put 420 there and the rest is history.
Now 420 is as mainstream as the word “joint,” and is featured everywhere you look. Even California’s medical marijuana law was coded SB420, whether deliberately or by mistake has never been cleared. There are countless media references including all the clocks in the movie Pulp Fiction being set to 4:20 or one particularly cheeky contestant on the Price is Right game show, who would only bid in prices containing $420.
Fun Times Ahead on April 20th
April 20th is now known as “International Cannabis Day,” and is a renowned counterculture holiday. Enthusiasts from all walks of life gather to celebrate and consume cannabis while advocating for legalization. It has developed into a global movement that is fun at the same time. There are massive events organized all over the world and pretty much anyone who has anything to do with the cannabis industry has this day marked on the calendar.
In Canada, this year’s 420 will mark the first marijuana celebration after legalization last fall and it will be a big day.
420 has helped gather mainstream attention for cannabis activism over the years and has helped break the stigma of cannabis as a “drug.” It’s a great way to get people together and celebrate this fantastic cause.
As for the Waldos, the group enjoys knowing that their high school codeword has gathered this much attention and are proud of their contribution to the cannabis culture.