What does 420 mean? The myth, the Mystery, and finally... the Truth!

Every year, as April 20th rolls around once again, many eager cannabis enthusiasts fluff their stashes and have their vaporizers at the ready – 420 is on the way!

Like many other celebratory days, few people know the reason behind 420. But now and then, a curious voice pipes up among the vapour cloud and poses the question, "what is 420?"


420 theories aplenty

The origins of 420 have more theories than you can shake a stick at. Some say it's the number of chemicals in marijuana. Sounds nice, but it's wrong. There are, in fact, 500 chemical compounds in the beloved weed.

"I heard it's the Dutch teatime." Also a lovely theory, but the famously prompt Dutch unusually do not follow a strict teatime schedule.

Some even go as far as noting that 4/20 is also Adolf Hitler's birthday. And don't even get us started on Bob Dylan's song "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35" theorists - 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420.

The last theory at least brings us to the correct area. For some time, rumours spread 420 was the Californian police department's code for cannabis.


The Truth

Alas, the truth starts with five unsuspecting California teens. These weed-loving youths were a regular feature standing against an outside wall of their San Rafael school—a meeting spot that inspired their nickname, "the Waldos."

While the Waldos were busy with school, a nearby Coast Guard member struggled to tend to a cannabis crop he had planted. In the fall of 1971, the Waldos caught drift off this abandoned group and were provided with a treasure map (some say by the plant's owner himself) to start their hunt.

From then on, the group met at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their school at precisely 4:20 pm. One of the original members of the Waldos, Steve Capper, told the Huffington Post, "We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started as 4:20-Louis, and we eventually dropped the Louis."

The Waldos would pile into a car after practice (they were all athletes), smoke some pot, and scour the nearby Point Reyes Forest for the elusive herb.

While their search efforts never proved fruitful, they did manage to leave an iconic legacy.


So, how did the word of 420 spread? 

By chance, most of the Waldos had connections to a popular band at the time – the Grateful Dead.

According to the Waldo's, they had the freedom to roam backstage during concerts and attend practice sessions. Capper told the Huffington Post, "There was a place called Winterland, and we'd always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, we're using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, 'Hey, 420.' So it started spreading through that community."


Journalism played a part in 420's global spread. 

'High Times," a well-known magazine on the scene at the time about – you guessed it – marijuana, was growing in popularity throughout California and the surrounding areas. High time's journalists latched onto the idea of 420 as a codeword/slang for weed and began to scatter it throughout their work. From there, there was no curbing the exponential spread of 420 throughout the US and across the globe. 


Breaking onto the big screen 

However, while 420 was generally confined to casual conversations for the next two decades, in 2003, it finally made its way into official documents. When the California Legislature codified the medical marijuana law the voters had passed, the bill was named SB 420. No one ever fessed up to being responsible for the lucky number. Still, it further solidified 420's place as the perfect synonym for weed.

More validation came along when Quentin Tarantino made the directorial choice to reference 420 in the iconic "Pulp Fiction." Throughout the movie, some clocks are set to 4:20pm.

Today, the unofficial holiday has grown into a worldwide celebration. Every year, tens of thousands of cannabis enthusiasts gather in Denver's Civic Center Park to celebrate cannabis culture and community. These festivities are believed to be the largest in the world. However, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of California, Santa Cruz, regularly boast the largest smoke-outs despite continuous curbing attempts from college officials.


Where's Waldo today?


The Waldo group members remain relatively anonymous and rarely make appearances or grant interviews. However, recently, there have been talks of 420 origin documentaries that would naturally include the Waldos. So, expect to see more of them in the future.

Where can you celebrate 420 in the UK?

The popularity of 420 has increased in the UK due to cultural ties between the UK and the US. Every year thousands, if not millions, eager participants meet up to roll up and share vibes.

The largest UK 420 event is held at Hyde Park, London. Surprisingly, police presence is minimal - evident of the UK's increasingly progressive views on cannabis.

If you're in Scotland, you'll want to visit '420 Hempstock' in Glasgow. This festival is the most significant cannabis celebration in Scotland. It's pretty organised, and there are music, stalls and vibes aplenty!

You can find other major 420 events in Leeds, Manchester, Derry, Swansea and Bristol.


Final Word

420 is a celebration of the plant that brings us joy, relief and happiness.
It's also a time to make sure our voices are heard and fight for the right to use that plant as we please, either medicinally or recreationally. Hopefully, we have removed some of the haze from the myth!