It’s easy to forget that I was one of those lost blank stares not too long ago. You know, the one that doesn’t react to the term “420.”
The first time I heard the term 420 was when a group of students at our local high school tried to name their Relay for Life Team “The 420’s.”Since I was on the organizing committee, I recall someone asking me at one of the meetings if I knew what 420 meant and I had no darn clue. This was as recent as 7 years ago. This woman went on to tell me, in a disgusted manner, that it was code for marijuana and that it was completely inappropriate for a group of high school students to use it for their team name. I agree. I agree even more so since I believe most people don’t even know what 420 means or where it came from other than the fact that it does have something to do with marijuana and doing anything out of ignorance is, well, just ignorant!
What 420 is NOT
Before we get into what the real story is behind 420, I thought it would be fun to debunk the folklore and B.S. (for lack of a better word) that still seems to transcend people’s ability to Google.
In no particular order, these are the myths:
- 4/20 isn’t the date Bob Marley died, no matter what you may have heard to the contrary (he died on 5/11/81). It’s not his birthday, either
- 420 isn’t the number of a bill in U.S. Congress to legalize pot, despite many people thinking it is.
- 420 isn’t the police or penal code for marijuana possession in California (or any other state), though many people believe that, as well
- Nor is 420 is the number of chemical compounds in cannabis, the pot plant, though many authors seem fond of stating so
- Although tea time in Amsterdam has been rumored to be 4:20, it is actually 5:30
- While not a more popular association, April 20th does happen to be Hitler’s birthday, but that is just a coincidence.
What 420 Actually Is
4:20 (as a time of day) or 4/20 (as a calendar date) or just plain 420 is a Stoner’s favorite number for a variety of reasons, or maybe for no reason at all, but colloquially the number says pot — “let’s smoke pot”, or “someone’s smoking pot,” or “gee, i really like pot,” or “time to smoke pot,” either by time (4:20 a.m. or p.m.), date (April 20th), or otherwise (e.g. State Route 420). April 20th at 4:20 is marked by annual events in Mount Tamalpais, CA (an informal gathering); Marin County, CA (the 420 Hemp Fest); Ann Arbor, MI (the Hash Bash); and Washington, D.C. (buildup towards the July 4th Smoke-In). It is always pretty close to Earth Day which seems to make sense to me.
This is where the story gets good. How did this term get started? Research found that it dates back to 1971 with a a group of athletic type dudes up in San Rafael High School in Marin County nicknamed, The Waldos. Their name was derived from the fact that they hung out by a wall outside the school. Isn’t it funny how schools come up with names for these groups of kids? My school had a similar group of athletic dudes we’d call The Wanderers, so I can already appreciate the group of guys they’re referring to.
Apparently, these guys heard about an abandoned patch of marijuana growing nearby and made it their business to go out and look for it. Since they were athletes, they would wait until after practice, which was 4:20 p.m. and meet eachother at the statue of Louis Pasteur, the famous chemist and microbiologist who just happened to be the scientist who gave us pasteurized milk and stuff. Yes, that “Pasteur.”
So everyday at 4:20, The Waldos would meet up at this statue, jump in a car and set off on their mission to find this hidden treasure of marijuana, the whole time smoking pot and actually never really finding it at all. Soon, they would pass eachother in the hallway and just say “420,” to indicate they would be seeing eachother later to get high, they were high, or do you want to get high? It was their new code word and no teacher or parent had a clue what they were talking about.
How Did It Spread?
So that’s how it got started, but how did it actually spread? Location, location, location. As it turned out, the real estate agent for some of the the Grateful Dead members happened to be one of the Waldo’s father. This gave the Waldos access to the Grateful Dead’s practices and roadies. So between the Waldo’s who created it, the Grateful Dead who spread it and High Times Magazine who printed it, it just caught on.
Side Note On Louis Pasteur
Here’s an interesting twist to the story. I was pretty blown away when I noticed the date of Louis Pasteur”s first successful attempt at pasteurizing anything? It was APRIL 20, 1862 How’s that for a coincidence?
It’s Time to Reconsider Hemp
As for me, 4:20 has come to signify something completely different. For me, 4:20 will always mean it’s time to reconsider hemp in all it’s glory, not just medicine. I’m telling you, my hotel built of hemp, furnished of hemp, selling hemp products and perhaps with a hemp smoking lounge will have every one thinking, what took everyone so darn long to reconsider the most amazing crop in the world?!
Everytime the clock strikes 4:20, let’s make it a TIME TO RECONSIDER HEMP.