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There's Something About 420

There's Something About 420

It's 4:19, you got a minute?
Love it or hate it, 420 is baked into cannabis culture. 420 is to cannabis culture as Sunday service is to religion. Everyone within cannabis culture knows about 420 but not everyone chooses to celebrate it as a holiday, just like some religious people choose not to partake in Sunday service. Regardless of how any one individual feels, the cannabis community as a whole seems to agree: There's just something special about 420.

The number 420 represents a celebration, a date, a time, an activity, a culture, a community, an expression, a greeting, and a plant that has played an integral part in shaping human history. 420 is a wink and a nod. It goes beyond a holiday or a day in April. It can be celebrated any day. Beyond the date 4/20, it's a time occurring every day. A group of friends might sit idly by as the clock turns from 4:19pm to 4:20pm before sparking a bowl and passing it around the circle. It's a time of day where a friend, family member, co-worker, or even a stranger might turn to you and say, "Hey... it's 4:20" with a twinkle in their eye. It's an open secret. It's a code everyone knows. It can simply be an homage to beloved cannabis plant itself, a reference with no immediate intent to partake. 420 can be used to let someone know it's safe to get baked, you condone getting stoned, feel free to smoke tree. Whether you're in or out of cannabis culture, you've heard someone say "four-twenty" in reference to cannabis in some capacity.




Where does 420 come from?


This is a question for the ages and to be frank, I'd be lying if I said I knew with certainty. Instead of offering a factual origin story on how 420 came to be, I'd like to offer up information as the lore of 420. Besides, isn't cannabis culture having it's own folklore cooler than a feud dating back to the early 1970's over which group of California teenagers get to claim the creation of the term? Opinion piece here, but I think it's disingenuous to attribute 420 as we know it today to a single moment, person, group, or event. 420 is more than a time-capsule of the 1970's, a time to get high, commercialized merchandise, more than a celebration, and it's certainly not something that any one person gets to claim ownership of because they may or may not have "said it first". With all of that being said, let's kick off this party off with...


420 Folklore

There have been many speculations, theories, and ideas put forth about how 420 came to be. People from different regions and even fandoms likely have their own lore regarding the origins of the popular term. It always depends who you ask, doesn't it? This is the part that is the most fun to me: the wild, unearned confidence and righteousness in 420 origin conspiracy theories that differ so widely from person to person, but you know who is always right? The person who is telling you the story, of course!


★ 420 is California penal code section for laws relating to cannabis

False, but in 2004 California's governor did sign a bill for Medical Marijuana called SB420! This was long after 420 was widely recognized as a reference to the cannabis plant. In reality, section 420 of the California penal code refers to obstructing entry on public land.


★ 420 is a dispatch code police for public ingestion or possession of cannabis

False, dispatch codes are supposed to be codes for a reason! Using 420 would be silly, as every stoner in the world would know they're busted and better think fast.


★ 4/20 is Bob Marley's death date... or birthday

False, Bob Marley died on May 11, 1981 and he was born on February 6th, 1945. 4/20 is also not the birthday nor death date for Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, nor for any of the other iconic 60's musicians you may have heard this lore about.


★ 420's origin was born in 1936 and it belongs to H.P. Lovecraft

Maybe... probably not, but who can say! This one is really interesting as H.P. Lovecraft is possibly the first person to write about being under the influence of a psychoactive plant while mentioning the specific time of 4:20. In The Walls of Eryx was written by Lovecraft in 1936 and published in Weird Tales Magazine in 1939. The character in the story encounters a "curious mirage-plant" and experiences psychoactive effects and from it. When their perceptual distortions are over, the character looks at their watch to find the time is 4:20. This story is not the first time Lovecraft had alluded to or mentioned cannabis. In the 1926 story The Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft mentions hashish specifically.


★ 4/20 is the day of the year to plant your crop

False, the best time to plant your crop will depend heavily on where you are and what kind of climate you live in. There is no one size fits all, best day of the year when it comes to outdoor growing... or indoor growing. Living in the Midwest, it's well-known just how volatile the early part of spring can be!


★ 420 is the number of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant

False, the number of chemical compounds we currently know about is far more than that! We know there are over 550 chemical compounds in the Cannabis Sativa plant and as time goes on, we'll likely find out about even more compounds.


★ 4:20 is the time displayed on all the clocks in the movie Pulp Fiction

False, but almost true! Most of the clocks in the movie display 4:20 as the time, but not every single clock. Thus, I am forced to concede that this one is false too.


★ 4:20 is tea time in England sometimes tea is slang for cannabis

False, typically afternoon tea time in England is between 3 and 4pm -- not at 4:20. In my humble Midwest opinion, tea time is any time you want it to be and don't let anyone tell you any different!


★ 420 was the only room number the Grateful Dead would stay in while on tour

False, this has been disputed by a spokesman for the band named Dennis McNally. Interestingly, the Grateful Dead and the deadheads that supported them likely made a huge impact in how the use of 420 spread so far and so wide.


★ 4:20pm is when the very first dose of LSD was ever taken

True, oddly enough! The year was 1943 on the 19th of April, a Swiss chemist named Albert Hoffman decided he would explore the psychedelic effects of LSD by dosing himself with 250 micrograms of LSD at 4:20pm. It seems the only connection this notable event has with cannabis culture's 420 is the time of day. Our Swiss friend Albert referred to this day as Bicycle Day because he started to feel the effects as he rode home on his bicycle. A true pioneer. Can you imagine if this had occurred at 4:20pm on April 20th, 1943 instead of April 19th? What a trip!



The Never-Ending Feud

This contested origin story feud is not nearly as fun as all the other creative and happen-chance folklore on how 420 could have come about. It wouldn't be an origin story without including this feud, so here we go!

The most basic, bare bones way to tell this story is in a nut shell goes like this...

Two cliques of overly confident teenagers from the same high school both claim to have created 420 slang back in the early 1970's. Over 50 years later, it's still contested by members of each clique.


The cliques? Glad you asked. Way back in their heyday they called themselves The Waldos and The Bebes. The tale they've told of 420's origin story begins more or less the same. The setting is San Rafael, California in the early 1970's. The teenagers attending San Rafael High School were pretty bold at the time, smoking spliffs frequently and shamelessly without much fear of repercussion from school administration. It was still pretty normal back in the day for teenagers to be regular cigarette smokers, so from a distance who would even know the difference? From this point forward, the stories between The Waldos and The Bebes differ significantly, each claiming their own as the one and only truth.


The Lesser Known Story

The Bebes are definitely the underdogs in the 420 origin story feud that's been raging on for all these years. I can't really know how Bryan Bann, more affectionately known as The Bebe, felt about The Waldos taking 'undue credit' for the birth of 420. If I had to guess, I'd say The Bebe felt at least annoyed at the ridiculous story being spread about the origins of a slang term he believes came from him and his group of buds, The Bebes. The story that comes from The Bebes is much less fantastical and other-worldly than that of The Waldos and in my personal opinion, a lot more believable. As The Bebe tells it, he gave The Waldos their group title and they earned that title for being a group of goofy guys. Instead of using my own words to describe The Bebes' origin story of how 420 came to be, I'll let one of their group members speak for them. The following quotes come from Bone Boy, a member of The Bebes, via a 2003 letter titled 'The Bebe is Thomas Edison of 420' sent to High Times to set the record straight after The Waldos story had been published in 1998. High Times, as far as I know, has never responded to Bone Boy or The Bebes.


"Quite simply, the birth of 420 occurred at precisely 4:20 in the afternoon to begin a bedroom bong session at the house of Du and Puff on a Saturday in October of 1970. The Bebe along with the brothers began preparing to "bong out", when Bebe glanced at the clock on the nightstand and said, "It's 4:20, time for bong loads". After getting high, they proceeded to do some audio recording with Bebe, as we did frequently, using his assortment of voices, including his impression of Abraham Lincoln, and said as tape was rolling: "4 score and 20 years ago..." as it turned out, 420 became an instant code in our neighborhood."

(quote sourced from Bone Boy's letter on


"School finished at about 3pm, for some earlier. Some may have had sports after school, some didn't. Now, let me get this straight: guys are going to return an hour and a half after school was dismissed to meet at a statue, get high and go look for pot plants a lengthy drive away? If this is believable, you must be in possession of some excellent 420. Have you ever driven from San Rafael to Pt. Reyes? It's about an hour each way (without commute traffic). So at 4:20, guys get together at the Louis Pasteur statue in the middle of campus, away from sports fields or gymnasiums, pile into a car and cruise out to Pt. Reyes looking for pot plants based on some map, then return? 4:20 seems kind of late to be driving an hour or so to look for pot plants. Might the sunset have interfered with their ability to find anything? What time did they get home, especially if they indulged in herb and did a bit of wandering out at Point Reyes?"

(quote sourced from Bone Boy's letter on



The Larger Than Life Story

The Waldos have told their story many times over the years and its been widely accepted as the truth, considering they've managed to dig up proof they'd used the term 420 to sign off in year books. Mind you, this doesn't necessarily prove it originates from them. It just proves they wrote it down in a year book, so take all of this with a big grain of salt. As their story goes, the five teens were nicknamed The Waldos because they frequented a wall off-campus as their hang out spot. According to them "4:20" was initially used to reference a plan they'd concocted to locate an abandoned cannabis crop to harvest with the use of a hand-drawn treasure map created by the individual responsible for growing the very crop... Just like the 2003 indie flick Rolling Kansas, but in a different location. The crop was supposedly located in Point Reyes, a cape in Marin County, California and a popular destination for tourists.


Is this all believable so far? Yeah? Alright, let's keep going.

The Waldos would meet up at a statue on school grounds at 4:20pm to discuss their plans to find the elusive crop with the help of the grower's treasure map. I have some questions about how and why they got their hands on this treasure map, but let's keep it moving or we'll never get through the tale brought forth by The Waldos. Originally they'd use the phrase "Louis 4:20" as the statue they'd meet at was of a man named Louis Pasteur. Despite being armed with a damn treasure map made by the grower (who you'd think would absolutely know where the crop would be), The Waldos failed time and time again to locate the mysterious crop. Accepting their defeat in finding this definitely true and not made up at all crop, The Waldos began using the phrase 420 as code for smoking reefer. From there, it caught on locally but as far as catching on across the world? Well... we can really thank the Grateful Dead for that. The Waldos had some ties with the Grateful Dead, one of The Waldo kids' dad's managed real estate for the band  and one of The Waldo kids' older brother was buddies with the bassist. Crazy story, right? It's so crazy that it sounds made up, but if you take a look at the origins of 420 on or it's what you'll find to be told as truth.



Your 4/20 Guide

  • ★ Check out your favorite sites, headshops, delta stores, and dispensaries on April 20th to stock up and score some great deals! It's customary for stores and sites like these to offer killer discounts to help you celebrate the day in your own way.


  • ★ Enjoy the great outdoors and your choice of legal THC at the same time! Hiking the back trails at your favorite park, playing some frisbee golf, going for a slow stroll, or driving out to somewhere more special and scenic are all great options for those who have been feeling cooped up this winter.


  • ★ Have your own 4/20 gathering with all your best buds! Everyone can contribute, partake, and have a good laugh. Why not see if your buddies have the strength to make it through something like The Challenge Cone by Raw... think you can do it?




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