The History of 420: How April 20 Became the Haziest Day of the Year

Stock-Man-Smoking

As almost everyone who attended college between the mid-1990s and the current day can tell you, there is a strong association between the number 420 and the Schedule 1 illegal substance commonly known as marijuana. (It’s also at times called pot, weed, green, herb, dope, grass, lawn, turf, and yard. Actually, I think those last three words refer more to natural ground cover than to narcotics — I’ll get back to you on that.)

On any given day, at 4:20 p.m., pot smokers all across America and abroad enjoy a fine toke of their preferred cannabis strain. (Dedicated aficionados might arise at 4:20 a.m. for a puff and then return to bed for some first-rate slumber, or begin their day bright and early and high.)

April 20, abbreviated as 4/20, has also taken on a great significance to those for whom pot is prized. In fact, 4/20 is noted as the pot smoker’s holiday. But why? Why is 4/20 the officially unofficial National Weed Day? Why is the number 420 associated with marijuana at all?

Stock-Man-Preparing-Marijuana-in-Cigarette

First, let’s dispel the falsehoods. Many people claim the number 420 was used as a police code for announcing illicit marijuana-related activities in progress. As in, an officer would espy a group of reefer heads and grab his walkie talkie to call out: “Hey, we’ve got a 420 in progress at the Old Mill! Send backup!” In fact, there was never any such police shorthand associated with pot and the number 420.

Another dubious explanation holds that there are 420 distinct chemical compounds found in the actual cannabis plant. That, too, is false. And besides, there’s really only one chemical compound found in pot that’s of real interest, anyway, and that’s Tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. This is the psychoactive metabolite that gets you baked, to use the medical terminology.

Stock-Marijuana-Plant

There is also no legitimate association between marijuana and the fact that the history’s biggest jerk, Adolf Hitler, was born on 4/20/1889, nor that the numbers in the Bob Dylan song Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 can be multiplied together to get the number 420. All lies!

The real origin story behind the 420 pot association is simple but far more compelling than any of the apocryphal anecdotes your cousin told you back in high school.

It all started back in the early 1970s in the town of San Rafael, California. A group of upstanding young marijuana enthusiasts who were enrolled together at the local high school caught wind of a plot of marijuana growing wild in a forest near town. They hatched a plan to find the pot plot, just as any decent young men should have done. (Zero sarcasm intended, for the record.) The lads, who referred to themselves informally as the Waldos (because high school), would meet up each day at 4:20 PM at a statue near their school. Once assembled at the appointed time and place, they set out en masse in search of the grass.

history of 420 grateful dead

The Waldos never found the legendary plot of woodland weed, but something even better came out of it all: The young men began using the number 420 not as a time to meet and commence a search, but instead as a code word to refer to all things pot-related. And there it may have stayed, a fond memory in the minds of a few gentlemen from California likely outgrown and perhaps even forgotten over time. Fortunately for the rest of us, one of the Waldos became associated with the Grateful Dead.

It went something like this: The band worked with the father of one of the Waldos in handling some real estate deals, the real estate agent’s older son became friends with the Dead’s bassist,then the younger brother started hanging out, then The Dead heard this 420 shorthand and liked it.

During the subsequent years — this being the later 1970s and 1980s, FYI — the Grateful Dead spread the association between 420 and marijuana across America. The real tipping point coming in the year 1990. At a Dead concert in late December of that year, a reporter on the staff of High Times magazine received a flyer referring to smoking “420” on April 20 at 4:20 p.m. The magazine published the flyer in a 1991 issue, and soon what had started as a code word among a few high school friends spread worldwide.

Thanks to some kids from San Rafael High, the Grateful Dead, and High Times magazine, 420 will forever be associated with marijuana. And 4:20 a.m. will always be the wrong 4:20 to choose for your pot smoking pleasure. Sleep is important, people.

Need some gear to celebrate 420? Our friends over at Grenco Science are offering a sweet sale between Monday, April 16 and Sunday, April 22. Use the code ‘THEMANUAL’ for an additional 5 percent off this Santa Cruz Grinder. We’re also fans of the G Pen Pro Vaporizer and the G Pen Elite Vaporizer.

Culture

Winter Reading List: 20 Books for the Cold, Dark Months

Our suggestions are stripped of the dull holiday classics and packed with cool, fun, and emotional reads every man should dig into.
Culture

Know Your Knife: A Guide to the Best Steel for Knives

Does your knife make the cut?
Culture

Get Him a Little Something from Our List of the Best Stocking Stuffers for Men

The only requirements for these gifts? They have to fit in a stocking. No price limit. Just the small stuff. And you know what they say about small packages.
Food & Drink

The Best Liquor Gifts for a Man: Your Guide for the 2018 Holiday Season

This year, get in the holiday spirit and give the gift that keeps on giving: a good bottle of booze.
Culture

LEGO for Adults: 13 Best Sets for Your Inner Child

Who’s bringing the Capri Sun and Gushers?  
Culture

18 Vinyl Albums Every Man Should Own

Your vinyl selection may vary depending on what kind of man you are, but there are some works of art that deserve to be in everyone's collection.
Culture

Cyber Monday Has Ended, But the Best Cyber Week Deals on Men’s Gear Are Here

Cyber Week is here and we've rounded up all the best deals for men.
Culture

Cuban Cigars: Everything You Need to Know about the Truth Behind the Legend

Are Cuban cigars worth the hype? Let's discuss.
Culture

The Best Manly Quotes of All Time

Man-up with wisdom from Stan Lee, Steve McQueen, and George Costanza.
Culture

13 Best NERF Blasters for Adults

You may or may not be using NERF to fight imaginary ninjas anymore, but you can still arm yourself with one of the best blasters primed for adulting.
Culture

The Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

These docs are entertaining, but also edifying. For your convenience, we’ve broken them up into categories.
Culture

Impress the Lady in Your Life With the Best Gifts for Her

We've curated a list so you can stop playing the guessing game when it comes to presents for your wife, girlfriend, mother, and all the other special ladies in your life.
Culture

10 Fiction Podcasts You Should Totally Get Sucked Into

Sit back, relax, and prepare for intrigue and adventure with the best serialized fiction podcasts.
Culture

Running in Cold Weather: How to Exercise When It’s Frigid As Hell Outside

It may be freezing outside, but that shouldn't interfere with your fitness routine.