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In 2019, you do not need to be a cannabis connoisseur to know that April 20th is considered by many to be “National Weed Day”, in which cannabis culture is celebrated by millions of people worldwide. Around this time every year, many people like to ask: “What does 420 mean?” And, “Why and how is 4/20, or the number 420, associated with marijuana at all?”

The origins of the date, and the term “420”, have been debated for decades. Some claim it refers to a police code for marijuana possession, while others assumed that there were 420 chemicals found in the cannabis plant. Some individuals even thought that it began from Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” with 420 being the product of 12 times 35, containing lyrics in the chorus that sang, “Everybody must get stoned”.

Read further to examine the true history of how this holiday came about and how it has progressed over time with a short timeline provided by High Times magazine.

How “4/20” Began

According to TheManual.com, it all started back in the early 1970s in San Rafael, California. A group of five marijuana enthusiasts, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz and Mark Gravich, attended San Rafael High School and referred to themselves informally as “The Waldo’s.” History.com reports that in the fall of 1971, the Waldo’s were given a map from a Coast Guard member who had planted a crop of cannabis plants in the nearby forest and could no longer tend to the crop. The Waldo’s would meet after practice at their high school’s famous chemist Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 p.m., in search of the weed plants. The Waldo’s would pile into a car, smoke some pot and scour the nearby Point Reyes Forest for the elusive, free herb.

The Waldo’s began using the number 420 not as a time to meet, but instead as a code word to refer to all things pot-related. They never did score the free bud, but perhaps they stumbled on to something more lasting? The term 420 was coined, allowing the high schoolers to discuss smoking pot without their parents or teachers knowing.

How the Term “420” Became Popular

TIME reports that Dave Reddix’s brother helped him get a job as a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, and the term “420” quickly caught on in the Deadhead circle. The legend goes that on Dec. 28, 1990, performing in Oakland, California the Grateful Dead band handed out flyers inviting fans to smoke “420” on April 20 at 4:20 p.m. One of these 420 flyers got in the hands of Steve Bloom, a former reporter for High Times magazine. High Times magazine published the flyer in 1991 and continued to reference the number, and those digits became known globally for their association with marijuana.

Thanks to some high school friends from San Rafael High, the Grateful Dead and High Times magazine, 420 will forever be associated with cannabis.

Timeline: A History of 4/20 by High Times

1971

Five San Rafael High School students christen the term “4:20,” meeting daily at that hour to share a smoke under the school’s statue of Louis Pasteur. The original password was “420 Louis” but “Louis” was soon dropped from the code word.

1973-1989

420 languishes in obscurity, passed along from stoner to stoner as a completely underground “grassroots” phenomenon.

1990

A mysterious flyer promoting 420 circulates at Grateful Dead shows, especially in Northern California. A copy of the flyer finds its way from a show in Oakland to High Times‘ offices in New York. San Rafael was the home of Grateful Dead Productions, supporting a link back to the original Waldo’s, who are not mentioned in the flyer.

1991

High Times publishes the text of the mysterious flyer, which claims that 420 started in San Rafael, CA, “as a police code for marijuana smoking in progress.” It also promotes “the grandmaster of all holidays: 4/20, or April 20th.”

1994

Clocks in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction are set at 4:20.

1995

The Cannabis Action Network stages its first annual 4/20 Ball in San Francisco at Maritime Hall. The event begins and ends at 4:20.

1997

High Times launches 420.com, which took 420 into the digital world.

1998

High Times debunks the “ marijuana smoking in progress” theory and declares the Waldo’s the true originators of 420 after the group produces letters and posters to prove this claim. 

2005

High Times suggests moving 4:20 to 5:20: “When you’re working a 9-to-5 job, sometimes it’s worth waiting the extra hour.”

July 1, 2017

Nevada becomes the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana. Adults over the age of 21 can buy up to an ounce of flower or an eighth-ounce of concentrate, but it can only be consumed on private property with owner permission. Time to celebrate 420 everyday in peace!

April 2018

The Waldo’s still live in northern California, in Marin County and Sonoma County, and are still good friends. To learn more about 4/20 history, TIME interviewed Dave Reddix, now a documentary filmmaker and former CNN cameraman, and Steve Capper, who runs a business that works with staffing agencies. “Capper says that the mainstream American perception of people who smoke marijuana has evolved significantly since they started 4/20, as it’s more accepted that people who are marijuana enthusiasts can also be healthy and smart.”

Present

Is it April 20th or 4:20 yet?! Come celebrate 4/20 or load up on your 4/20 essentials at ReLeaf Dispensary with our spectacular 4/20 deals! Don’t forget, Nevada locals always receive a 10 percent discount on products at ReLeaf Dispensary.

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