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420: Myths Busted and the True Story of the Stoners' Holiday


It seems like everyone has their own version of where 420 comes from and what it means.

The mysterious number that signifies smoking marijuana has become an iconic theme of cannabis culture. What started out as the unofficial time to get high every day—4:20—morphed into the April 20th, international, unofficial stoner’s holiday. But no one seems to know where the number actually comes from.

I had my theories. Back in the 90’s when I first heard about 420 and my group of friends started saying things like “It’s 4:19, got a minute?” I figured it had something to do with English tea time. Tea time is around 4:20pm and “tea,” in some circles, was slang for marijuana. But I was wrong.

Then, while visiting the midwest in 1999, and partaking in some good Indiana weed, my fellow smokers informed me that 420 was the name of the medical marijuana law passed in California.

Close, but no cannagar. That was Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420 (SB420). SB420 was named in honor of the the mysterious number, not the other way around.

Ancient lore has it that 420 was the police radio code for “marijuana smoking in progress,” but that’s not true either.

Some other 420 myths busted:

  • There are 420 chemical compounds in marijuana. Busted. There are actually around 315.

  • 4/20 is the day Bob Marley died. Busted. Bob Marley died on 5/11/81. 4/20 is not his birthday either (that was 2/6/45). Nor is it the birthday—or date of death—of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, or Jim Morrison.

  • 4/20 is the best time of year to plant marijuana. Busted. For outdoor grows, when you plant totally depends on your region and climate. It’s not about when; it’s about sustained temperatures generally between 55° and 85°F. Obviously, indoor operations can plant year-round.

So if none of these are true, what’s the real origin of 420?

It goes back to 1971, when a group of five high school buddies, known as the “Waldos,” began an after-school search for an abandoned marijuana crop.

The Waldos, who named themselves after the wall where they would hang out, began to meet every day at 4:20 after sports practice to go in search of the rumored patch of weed. Day after day, and week after week, they searched, treasure map in hand, getting high along the way, but never found the bounty.

It became a thing they would say, “You want to go 420?” At first it referred to their search, but eventually it became code for smoking in general, and depending on how they uttered the phrase, it could even mean “Do you have any weed?” or “Yeah, I’ve got bag, let’s go!”

So how did this stoner code go beyond the Waldos and out to the world at large?

That’s where the Grateful Dead comes in.

The Waldos lived in San Rafael, California. One of the Waldos—Let’s call him Steve’s—father was a real estate broker for the Dead, and his older brother managed a Grateful Dead sideband, so they all knew each other.

The Waldos had access to Grateful Dead parties, and they would often get high with the band. At some point the Waldos' code word must have slipped—then it became a Dead thing.

As the band toured the country and the world, the Grateful Dead subculture picked up 420 and spread it even further. Eventually, High Times caught on and began publicizing it, and the rest is history.

Now you can find events and festivals all over the country celebrating marijuana on 4/20. What are you doing for 420 this year?

2020 Solutions will be running all kinds of 420 specials to help you celebrate the one true stoner’s holiday. Come on in and see what we have to offer!


Locations: 2018 Iron Street Bellingham, WA 98225 Open: Mon-Sat 8am-11:45pm, Sun 9am-10pm 5655 Guide Meridian Bellingham, WA 98226 Open: Mon-Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 9am-10pm Phone: (360) 734-2020


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