420 origin: where does the 420 code come from?


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At some point, 420 became the code for marijuana use. Pot smokers in the office can share a sly smile when the clock strikes 4:20 pm.

Some cannabis enthusiasts even go out of their way to celebrate April 20th each year, and headshops have special sales that day. If you’re lucky, certain hosts and Airbnb rentals are “420 friendly”. But where did all this tradition come from? What is the real 420 origin? Take a look at the theories below and try to guess which one they all started with!

Theory # 1: Induce the Crime

420 originPhoto by: LHF Graphics /

The first theory is that 420 is the police code for possession or use of marijuana (“All units, please answer, 420 in progress”).

Theory # 2: Bob Marley’s Birthday

This theory holds that April 20th is Bob Marley’s birthday, and the date was celebrated to celebrate the man who made marijuana smoking a part of his public image when he ruled the music industry.

Theory 3: Everyone must be stoned!

In Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Woman No. 12 and 35, a line stands out: “But I wouldn’t feel so alone, everyone has to be stoned!” This theory arises from this line and the fact that 12 x 35 = 420.

Theory # 4: Buds in Search of Buds

The fourth theory is about a group of high school students who would meet at 4:20 p.m. to look for an abandoned marijuana crop near their hometown.

Theory # 5: Legalization Bills

This theory suggests that the US Congress’ bill to legalize marijuana was Bill 420.

Okay, take some time and think about it. Which theory do you think best describes the origin of 420 as a marijuana reference?

And the answer is:

Theory No. 4 (20)! But before we investigate further, let’s break down the truth behind Theories 1, 2, 3, and 5.

The first theory that 420 is the police code for marijuana possession or use is wrong. Depending on your location, 420 can mean many different things, such as: B. Murder (Las Vegas) or Youth Disorder (San Diego).

The second theory is just wrong. Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945 and died on May 11, 1981. No connection there.

While the third theory is quite creative, it is not true. Bob Dylan was never connected to the origins of the term 420.

Finally, the fifth theory ties in with the origin of 420 in the US Congress proposed bill to legalize marijuana. The closest link here is California’s Senate Bill 420, which set guidelines for medical marijuana users in 2003. Nah, but not a hemp cigar.

The real 420 origin

Flowering cannabis plant 420Photo by: Joe Hamilton Photography /

The use of the term “420” refers to marijuana-related activities that began at San Rafael High School in 1971. The Waldos, a group of students (who often hung on a wall outside of school), learned of an abandoned property with marijuana plants. One of them even found a hand-drawn map that would supposedly lead them to the sprouting treasure.

All the athletes, the young men, agreed to meet on the school grounds after various exercises before heading up high to look for the bounty. Their meeting point was under a statue of Louis Pasteur. Your meeting time was, you guessed it, 4:20 pm.

During the school day, between classes, the friends remembered their plans that afternoon and said, “4:20 Pasteur.” Over time as the search continued, they dropped the esteemed scientist and simply used “420”, to communicate their plans.

The Waldos never found the elusive stain, but they did find a new way to communicate with each other. “420” developed far beyond the search: Simply dropping the term among each other was a form of communication: “Do you want to go smoke?” “Do you have any on you?” “Are you straight up?” or even, “Can you say that I’m baked?”

However, this does not explain how the term became a universal term for marijuana use. This is where a little band called The Grateful Dead comes in. The Waldos were linked to the band through one of the group members, who was good friends with Phil Lesh and who ran one of the side bands of the dead, as well as through the father of another group member who managed the band’s real estate. The Waldos hung out while the band practiced and even attended parties and shows behind the scenes.

Unsurprisingly, marijuana was as present behind the scenes at Grateful Dead shows as it was in the audience. While band members, stagehands, roadies and groupies ran around behind the scenes, joints were passed around. The Waldos kept their sentence alive and said “420” as one could say “Here you go”. And at one point or another it must have got stuck.

So there you have it. Amaze your friends, impress your enemies, and try to remember all of these details as you tell the 420 origin story while totally baked.


Beth Edmonds