Within cannabis culture, 4/20 is an important symbol. Every year on April 20, festival tents go up in cities, stadiums and pastures around the world to welcome celebrants looking to communally commemorate the freeing effects of cannabis. While April 20 has become the official holiday of cannabis culture, some people choose to "observe the holiday" each day when the clock strikes 4:20. What is the history of 4/20? The background story to how this number came to symbolize cannabis appreciation is actually a very quaint tale involving friendship. First, however, it's important to dispel the myths that have circulated over the years about the origins of 4/20.
Myths About the Origins of 4/20
One of the most widely believed myths about 4/20 that was shared all throughout the 90s and early 2000s was that 420 was the police code for "marijuana" in the state of California. Some other variations of the rumor claimed that 420 was the penal code for marijuana. However, all of these are incorrect.
Another very smart-sounding theory is that 420 is actually a nod to the chemical composition of marijuana. It has been claimed that 420 represents the number of chemicals found in marijuana. This makes sense until you research the composition of marijuana to discover that there are actually more than 500.
Other theories about the origins of 420 are taken from songs. The most popular theory about the melodic inception of 420 is that it was taken from a popular Bob Dylan song called "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." Released in 1966, this hit with a strangely mathematical title features the line "everybody must get stoned." Curiously, multiplying 12 by 35 does bring you to 420.
While the Dylan connection is a good theory, it has never been verified. There's also no evidence that the songwriter ever intended for people to multiply the numbers. In fact, there's not much clarity over why people would choose to multiply the two numbers to arrive at 420 instead of adding them together to get 47. So, where did 420's connection to marijuana come from if it wasn't buried in a song? To start, you have to picture a high school campus tucked away in Northern California in the 1970s.
The True Origins of 4/20: How a Group of Friends Brought a Counterculture Reference to the Mainstream
According to TIME, the most credible story about the origins of 4/20 goes back to a group of five high school students from California's Marin County named Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz and Mark Gravichin that formulated a very special ritual. Each day, these five students would meet by the statue of famed chemist Louis Pasteur on the campus of San Rafael High School at exactly 4:20 to "partake." Chosen simply because it allowed them to all meet at the same time after finishing their days, 420 did not have any special significance to the students. As the daily ritual became part of their high school lives, the five friends would simply say "420" when referencing marijuana in conversation. This story was validated in a feature article on the five friends published in the December 1998 issue of High Times magazine.
We're With the Band: How a Connection to the Grateful Dead Brought the 4/20 Phrase to Life
The obvious question is how a group of five high school students managed to coin a phrase that would become so powerful that it is now both a staple of popular culture and the date of an international holiday. It turns out that some of the students had just a little bit of influence. Two of the five students actually had direct connections to members of the Grateful Dead. First, Mark Gravitch’s father managed real estate for the band's members. Secondly, Dave Reddix had an older brother who happened to be a close friend of bassist Phil Lesh. When hanging out backstage at concerts, the teens would use the phrase 420 to reference marijuana. It caught on.
While 4/20 was used in inside circles all throughout the 70s and 80s to refer to marijuana, it was mostly an insider way of speaking. Very few people in the mainstream culture knew the significance of 4/20. That all changed in 1990.
How 4/20 Became Popular by Chance
In December of 1990, a group of Grateful Dead fans in Oakland unintentionally brought the phrase to the mainstream. Inspired to encourage people to partake in marijuana as part of a communal experience, the group crafted flyers inviting people to light up at exactly 4:20 p.m. on April 20. The "420 event" got its big exposure moment when one of the flyers was received by Steve Bloom of High Times magazine. Intrigued, Bloom passed the flyer on to the magazine's editors. The flyer was printed in 1991.
Today, cannabis is so mainstream that nobody needs to speak about "420" in code. However, this number has come to symbolize the communal, connected roots of cannabis culture in the United States. Nearly every city in the United States now has some form of festival or event on 4/20!
It Doesn't Have to Be 4/20 to Get a Medical Cannabis Card
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