What is The Origin of 4/20?

By Zero Point

April 20th, or 4/20, is a date that holds significant weight in cannabis culture. Initially observed in the shadows, it has blossomed into a mainstream event celebrated across the globe, symbolizing not just a call for the relaxation and social enjoyment of cannabis but also a deeper plea for legal reform and social justice. This day's origins, shrouded in myth, lore, and a puff of smoke, are as intriguing as the cultural practices that have emerged around it. This blog post aims to unearth the roots of 4/20, tracing its journey from a clandestine code among friends to a global phenomenon that encapsulates the evolving narrative of cannabis in society.

The investigation into the origin of 4/20 is not just an exercise in understanding a date but a window into the shifting perceptions of cannabis, from vilification to acceptance and celebration. As we delve into the past, exploring theories and stories, we also shine a light on the impact of 4/20 on cannabis legislation, culture, and its ongoing journey towards legalization and normalization. Join us as we explore the rich tapestry of history, culture, and activism that has grown around this special date in the cannabis community.

Historical Context

The story of cannabis is as old as civilization itself, with its use documented for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes across various cultures. In the 20th century, however, cannabis found itself at the center of legal and moral battles, often symbolizing broader cultural wars. The 1960s and 1970s, in particular, saw a surge in its use as a symbol of rebellion and a tool for social and political change, setting the stage for the emergence of 4/20.

The Origin Story of 4/20

The most widely accepted origin story of 4/20 traces back to the early 1970s in San Rafael, California, where a group of high school students known as the "Waldos" coined the term. The Waldos had embarked on a quest to find an abandoned cannabis crop they had learned about, meeting at 4:20 p.m. after school to begin their search. Although they never found the crop, 4:20 became their code for cannabis-related activities. This simple code among friends would eventually become the symbol of cannabis culture worldwide.

The Waldos and Their Legacy

The Waldos were so named because their preferred hangout spot was a wall outside their school. The adventure to find the hidden cannabis crop, guided by a treasure map of sorts provided by a friend whose brother was supposedly growing the cannabis, became a regular after-school activity. Their meeting time, 4:20 p.m., was chosen as it was after school and before their parents came home, offering a perfect window for their quest. While the crop remained elusive, their legacy did not.

Connection with the Grateful Dead

The Waldos' connection to the Grateful Dead, a band deeply embedded in the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s, played a pivotal role in spreading the term beyond San Rafael. One of the Waldos' brothers managed a side band of the Grateful Dead, and another Waldo's father dealt with the band's real estate. This connection gave the Waldos access to the Grateful Dead's circle, where the term 4/20 was used in its current context for the first time. The band and their followers, known for their cannabis-friendly stance, helped propagate the term across the country and, eventually, the world.

Alternative Theories and Myths

While the Waldos' story is the most documented and accepted, several other theories and myths exist about the origin of 4/20. Some have suggested that 420 was the police code for marijuana smoking in progress, while others believed it was the number of active chemicals in marijuana. However, these theories have been debunked and lack the factual basis that the Waldos' story holds.

4/20 in Popular Culture

Over the decades, 4/20 has transcended its origins to become a major cultural event. The day is marked by festivals, concerts, and, more traditionally, gatherings where cannabis is consumed at 4:20 p.m. Movies, music, and media have embraced 4/20, embedding it further into the fabric of popular culture. The term "420 friendly" has become synonymous with a tolerance or acceptance of cannabis culture, often seen in housing ads, dating profiles, and social media.

Media and Entertainment

Films and TV shows have played a significant role in popularizing 4/20, often referencing cannabis culture and the significance of the date either subtly or overtly. Music genres, particularly reggae and hip hop, have also embraced and promoted 4/20 through lyrics and concerts scheduled on April 20th.

Significant Events and Rallies

Around the world, April 20th has become a day of celebration and protest. In cities like Denver, San Francisco, and Vancouver, massive rallies and events are held, where thousands gather to celebrate cannabis culture and advocate for legal reform. These events vary from peaceful gatherings and educational seminars to music festivals and art shows, all centered around the theme of cannabis legalization and normalization.

The Impact of 4/20 on Cannabis Legalization Movements

As 4/20 evolved from an insider's joke to a global phenomenon, it has also become a pivotal moment each year for the cannabis legalization movement. This section explores how the annual observance of April 20th has influenced public attitudes toward cannabis and played a role in the broader movement towards its legalization.

A Catalyst for Change

The visibility and widespread celebration of 4/20 have served as powerful tools for advocacy and awareness. These events draw attention not only to the social and cultural aspects of cannabis use but also to the legal and political issues surrounding it. By bringing together diverse groups of people, from casual users to staunch activists, 4/20 events create a platform for dialogue, education, and the sharing of stories about the impact of cannabis prohibition on individuals and communities.

Policy Changes and Public Opinion

The last few decades have seen a significant shift in public opinion regarding cannabis, with a growing majority supporting legalization for medical and recreational use. This change has been mirrored in policy, as numerous states and countries have moved to legalize or decriminalize cannabis. The annual 4/20 celebrations have played a part in this shift, serving as a reminder of the widespread support for cannabis reform and providing a day of unity and action for those pushing for change.

Advocacy and Awareness

4/20 has also become a day for advocacy groups to mobilize, using the occasion to educate the public about the benefits of cannabis legalization, including criminal justice reform, medical access, and economic opportunities. By highlighting the discrepancies between the legal treatment of alcohol and tobacco and that of cannabis, activists aim to challenge the stigma and misconceptions surrounding cannabis use.

Contemporary Celebrations and Criticisms

Today's 4/20 celebrations reflect the broad spectrum of cannabis culture, from the deeply political to the purely social. As the event has grown in size and scope, it has also faced criticism, prompting a discussion about its future and the direction of the cannabis movement.

Modern 4/20 Celebrations

In addition to traditional smoke-outs and rallies, modern 4/20 celebrations include a wide array of events, from educational seminars and cannabis cooking classes to digital gatherings and virtual reality experiences. Dispensaries and cannabis companies also participate, offering special deals and promotions. These celebrations reflect the evolving landscape of cannabis culture, embracing both its countercultural roots and its move towards mainstream acceptance.

Criticisms and Concerns

However, as 4/20 has grown, so have the criticisms. Some argue that the commercialization of 4/20 undermines its origins and the ongoing fight for legalization and social justice. Others worry that the focus on consumption rather than activism dilutes the message and may reinforce negative stereotypes about cannabis users. These criticisms highlight the challenges facing the cannabis movement as it navigates the tension between celebration and advocacy, commercial interests, and social justice.


The story of 4/20 is a microcosm of the larger narrative of cannabis in society. From its humble origins among a group of high school friends to a global event that encapsulates the joys, challenges, and complexities of cannabis culture, 4/20 has come to symbolize the evolving relationship between society and this ancient plant. As we look to the future, 4/20 stands as a testament to the power of grassroots movements to effect change, reminding us of the ongoing struggle for legalization, acceptance, and understanding. Whether celebrated quietly among friends or loudly at public rallies, 4/20 will continue to be a day of significance in the cannabis community, marking both how far we have come and the journey still ahead.

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