The History of 420

Before the days of Google and Wikipedia, the origins of the term 420 were left mostly to the imaginations of stoners. Today the consensus is that the term originated in 1971 with five highschool students Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich in San Rafael, California. The group referred to themselves as “The Waldos” and according to most reports, would meet after school at 4:20 PM in front of a statue of Louis Pasteur to search for a cannabis crop that had been abandoned by a Coast Guard service member in the nearby woods. Whether or not they ever found it remains unclear, but they continued to meet up at the same time and place to consume cannabis. To avoid suspicion, they began using the code “420 Louis” (eventually shortened to “420”) to reference the meetings during school hours. Dave’s older brother was good friends with the Grateful Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh, and the term eventually ended up circulating among Bay Area Deadheads throughout the 70’s and 80’s and finally to cannabis enthusiasts around the world. 

While that story’s mundane origins and supporting documents give it credibility, plenty of other theories have been suggested over the years. Here are a few of our favorites:

420 Chemicals in Cannabis

It’s impossible to say who thought up this clever interpretation of 420, but they were a little off in their calculations. Cannabis actually contains 483 known compounds, such as cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids, and omega fatty acids. 

A Song by Bob Dylan

The song Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 by America’s favorite mumbler is often cited as the origin of 420 due to the lyrics “everybody must get stoned” and the fact that 12 x 35 = 420. Coincidence? Probably. 

Bob Marley’s Birth/Death

Given Bob Marley’s associations with weed, it’s not surprising that he found his way into this legend too. Unfortunately, he was born on February 6, 1945 and died on May 11, 1981. Sorry, Bob. 

California’s 420 Penal Code

Many people have lit up in public parks over the years, but the misdemeanor offense of obstructing another person’s access to public land isn’t something you’ll often hear people talk about while passing a joint. 

Jimmy Carter’s Rabbit Incident

On April 20, 1979, a swamp rabbit swam toward President Jimmy Carter’s fishing boat and was sensationalized by the media as an attack by a killer bunny. This event is obviously worthy of a holiday, but Carter’s 1973 UFO sighting smells much more like cannabis. 

Ancient Aliens

Your dad’s favorite History Channel show, Ancient Aliens, premiered on April 20, 2010. Sure, 420 started years before, but like, did it really?

Illustration of historical 420 figures