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The Origins of 420

Ever wonder where 420 comes from? Our latest article dives into the legend, history, and myths surrounding the origin story of 420.

Jason SanderJason Sander · Apr. 20, 2021 · 6 min read
The Origins of 420

On the international cannabis holiday, we are diving into the origin story of how 420 became synonymous with consumption. We look into the history behind 420 and dispel a few myths as well.

420 Origin Story - Myths and Urban Legends

Unless you have the first-hand experience, it’s hard to understand exactly how historic events played out. The origins of 420 are no different, and of course, come along with urban legends and myths of their own. One such urban legend is that 420 is the criminal code for distributing cannabis in California. This is not the case, as 420 is actually the code for the obstruction of entry onto public land. SB 420 is a Senate Bill in California that allows for the use and recommendation of medical cannabis and prevents physicians and patients from being persecuted for doing so.

In actuality, neither the LAPD nor the NYPD has a police code 420 for any crime. In San Francisco, police there do use 420 as a criminal code for juvenile disturbance. Are there any other locations in the U.S. that do use 420 as a police code? Let us know, we’d love to hear it.

Another urban legend about the origins of 420 involves the song by Bob Dylan called Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. The thought process behind this myth is that 12 times 35 equals 420. This coupled with the fact that there’s a well-known line in the song that goes “everybody must get stoned”. The theory behind the myth does make some sense but has never been confirmed by Bob Dylan - who would be the authority on the meaning behind the song.

Where’s Waldo’s & Grateful Dead Parking Lots

Now that we’ve dispelled some myths and urban legends surrounding the origins of 420, let’s take a look at where the terminology likely does come from. As the story goes, the Legend of the Waldos is that students in the 1970s attending San Rafael High School in Marin County, California would meet up at 4:20 to meet up. This time of day - 4:20 PM, was a perfect fit for cannabis consumption, as they were out of school for the day, but their parents were still at work, according to legend.

They’d supposedly just say to each other “420,” and only The Waldos, those in the know, knew what that meant. 420 seemingly became part of their vernacular, and they were able to discuss smoking herb around unsuspecting teachers and other adults. After 420 started with the Waldos, the terminology spread throughout the U.S. in the exact same way as so many other things have when it comes to cannabis culture. And this was in the parking lot of Grateful Dead shows.

Anyone who has attended a Grateful Dead show knows that the parking lot experience is almost as entertaining and enjoyable as the performance itself. While Jerry Garcia died in August of 1995, the Dead still played shows for years after that - with members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart in and out of the band in its various lineups. The Dead kept the parking lot experience alive many years after Jerry’s death, but the experience isn’t quite what it once was. In the early days, like the 1960s and 70s, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were supposedly responsible for popularizing the band as well as making 420 a household phrase.

Music Festivals & the Counter Culture

As is the case with so many other things related to cannabis and the counterculture, we have hippies, Deadhead, and music festival-goers to thank for introducing 420 in the vernacular of mainstream U.S. OG counterculture journalist Steve Hager confirms the accuracy of the legend of 420, as Hager has covered music festivals for decades. Some of the first cannabis cups, which started in the mid-1990s, were held on 4/20 - further solidifying the phrase for those in the know - for about 25 years now. The first Cannabis Cups had about 300 vendors and over 20,000 event attendees, since becoming one of the biggest cannabis gatherings in the world.


420 Continues to Evolve with Legal Cannabis

This article is just a brief intro to the cannabis history of 420’s origin story. If you’d like to dig deeper, there’s no doubt a wealth of info available online that you can learn about Deadheads, Merry Pranksters, parking lots of concerts, the Waldos, and the like.

As we are hopefully seeing the End of Federal Cannabis Prohibition finally come to pass, origin stories like where 420 came from will become increasingly more important. The words we use to describe all things cannabis do matter if our goal is to end the stigma that still surrounds responsible cannabis consumers and shed stoner stereotypes.

If you find yourself over-indulging on 420, we have a few articles for you to check out on how to detox from THC, ways to sober up if you consume a bit too much, as well as cannabis-related movies and documentaries to watch to laugh at and help you ride out your high.

HashDash - Educating and Entertaining the Cannabis Community

We hope you found value in our content on the Origins of 420. We’d love to hear your input! Sound off on our social - @hashdash on all platforms, except for Instagram, where we are @hashdashdotcom.

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Thanks for reading. We appreciate you! Happy 420! Please consume responsibly.

Jason Sander
Jason SanderJason is a versatile writer and marketer with over ten combined years of experience working with clients in various industries. He couples this expertise with six years of writing for the cannabis sector as well as a passion for the business side, and the science behind the plant medicine.




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