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If you have friends or family that use cannabis, on April 20th one of them may say to you “Happy 420!” or “Happy Weed Day!” You may or may not know what they’re talking about. For those of you who don’t know, read on for the answer. For those that think you know – do you really?
What is 420?
There are several stories of the origin of 420 (Weed Day) but one thing is constant. April 20th marks the annual celebration of all things cannabis. And this year’s celebration will be even more enthusiastic considering the majority of Americans now support legalization.
So how did 420 become synonymous with cannabis and why is it called “Weed Day”? The lore around 420’s relationship with cannabis is plentiful. One of the more popular theories is that 420 was the California penal code or the police radio code for marijuana. That’s wrong on both counts. There’s another theory that only a mathematician could have proposed. It goes something like this: Bob Dylan has a song called Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, in which he repeatedly sings “Everyone must get stoned.” 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420. Others say that there are 420 compounds in the cannabis plant but actually, there are nearly 500, according to the NCBI.
Sticking with the musical convergence theme, April 20th was rumored to be the date that seminal 1960s rock stars, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin all tragically died. The entertainers were strongly identified with marijuana use during their brief lives and the burgeoning psychedelic culture after their demise. However, a quick Google search reveals that none of them actually passed away on April 20. Jim Morrison died on July 3, Jimi Hendrix on September 18, and Janis Joplin on October 4.
Then there’s Albert Hofmann. Hofmann took the first deliberate LSD trip at 4:20 p.m. on April 19, 1943. While this was indeed true — his lab notes confirm that this isn’t the source of 420, it’s just one of life’s happy coincidences.
The Truth About 420
In 1971 a group of five California teens hung out by a wall outside their San Rafael, CA high school—a meeting spot that inspired their nickname, “the Waldos.” They learned that a member of the Coast Guard planted cannabis plants nearby and could no longer tend to them. Rumor has it that he provided the Waldos with a “treasure map” supposedly leading to the abandoned crop. Prior to embarking on their treasure hunts, the Waldos would meet at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their school at least once a week. Their meeting time? 4:20 p.m. They would pile into a car, smoke some weed and search the nearby Point Reyes National Seashore for the elusive, free cannabis plants. 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.” They never found the treasure but they unknowingly coined the term 420.
That might have been the end for 420 if it weren’t for the Grateful Dead, the famous jam band. In December of 1990, fans of the band (known as Deadheads) passed out flyers in Oakland, CA encouraging everyone to “smoke pot hard-core” at 4:20. “Now, there’s something even grander than getting baked at 4:20,” the flyer read. “We’re talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grand master of all holidays: 420 or April 20th.” This simple flyer cemented the term 420, and April 20th, as what will forever be known as Weed Day. It’s worth remembering this was before cannabis was legal in any form, and today, 420 remains synonymous with cannabis culture.
The use and acceptance of cannabis have come a long way since those early days, It may be a little dated to refer to it as Weed Day but either way, we’re thankful for the plant and all the benefits we receive from it. Happy 420!
John Ansimoore covers all things cannabis for Three Wells.