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The History of 420: How it Started and How it is Celebrated Today

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Marijuana enthusiasts everywhere can attest to the significance of April 20th, or as it's widely known, "420." April 20th or 4/20 is the most celebrated day in marijuana culture. It's a day when cannabis enthusiasts come together to celebrate their love for the sacred plant, promote legalization, and simply have a good time consuming the herb.

Have you ever wondered how 4/20 became such a prominent date in cannabis culture? Let's explore the history of 420 to see how it started and changed over time.

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What is 420?

Before we elaborate on the history of 420, let’s clarify what it means first. For people who may not be aware, “420” is the code word used by the cannabis community and enthusiasts to indicate that it is time to smoke pot or get “high.” How the term was coined has been widely debated for decades.  Numerous stories and theories have circulated in the marijuana community on what gave rise to the term being used. One of the most popular theories is that it was coined by a group of high school students in San Rafael, California, in the early 1970s.

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The Origin of 420

So where and when did 420 start? As the story goes, a group of high school students known as “The Waldos” in San Rafael, California, would meet up at 4:20 p.m. every day to smoke marijuana together. They chose this time because it was after school and they didn’t want to get caught by their parents for “skipping school.” The term “420” eventually caught on as a secret code word for smoking weed, and it spread throughout California’s cannabis culture. In the 1990s, High Times magazine popularized the term, and it soon became a nationwide celebratory phenomenon.

Facts about 420

Now that we've explored the origin of 420, let's take a look at some interesting facts about this beloved date in the cannabis culture community

420 Facts:

  • The first recorded use of the term “420” was in a 1971 letter from “The Waldos.”
  • In 2017, a record-breaking 125-foot joint was rolled in Worcester, Massachusetts on April 20th.
  • California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, and it also legalized recreational marijuana in 2016.
  • The Waldos still meet up on April 20th every year to smoke together.
  • Colorado sold over $100 million worth of marijuana on April 20th, 2019 alone.
  • April 20th is not only a day to celebrate cannabis culture, but it’s also Hitler’s birthday.
  • Revenue for dispensaries increased over 2x on 420 compared to their busiest day, which is usually a Saturday
  • Recreational adult-use and medical marijuana 420 sales increased by nearly 40% year over year in 2022 to $154.4 million, setting a new record. 
  • Amsterdam’s annual 420 celebration draws in thousands of tourists every year.
  • In 2018, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • The use of “420” as a code word for marijuana was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.
  • There’s a town in Colorado called “420,” which was named after a local marijuana grow operation.

Funny 420 Facts:

  • The Waldos never found the “secret patch” of cannabis they were searching for in the 1970s.
  • A group of marijuana activists attempted to get the number 420 added to the California Penal Code as a reference to smoking marijuana.
  • The term “420-friendly” is commonly used on dating apps to indicate a person’s openness to cannabis use.
  • In 2013, Snoop Dogg set the world record for the largest “hotbox” by smoking with 150 people inside a 1970s Chevrolet.
  • On April 20th, 2015, a group of nuns in California got in trouble for growing marijuana on their property.
  • In 2018, a group of seniors at a retirement home in Massachusetts held 
  • In 2018, a group of seniors at a retirement home in Massachusetts held a “bong-a-thon” to celebrate 420.
  • In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many 420 events to be canceled or postponed.
  • In some countries, such as Japan and South Korea, cannabis possession can result in a prison sentence.
  • A popular strain of marijuana is named after the iconic date, called “420 OG.”
  • The code word “420” has inspired a variety of products, from T-shirts and hats to phone cases and jewelry.
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Major 420 Events

Over the years, there have been several notable events that have occurred on April 20th within the cannabis community. Here are just a few:

  • In 1999, the first official 420 event was held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which attracted thousands of people.
  • In 2012, a group of protesters in Denver, Colorado held the first “420 Rally for Marijuana Legalization,” which eventually became an annual event.
  • In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use.
  • In 2014, a group of activists in Washington, D.C. handed out over 10,000 free joints on the National Mall to promote marijuana legalization.
  • In 2017, the city of San Francisco officially declared April 20th as “Weed Day.”
  • In 2018, Canada announced that it would legalize recreational marijuana on October 17th of that year.
  • In 2021, New York became the 15th state in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • The Evolution of 420

Celebrating 420

Since it started in the 1970s, 420 has evolved from a simple code word used by a group of high school students to become a worldwide phenomenon. As the legalization of marijuana has become more widespread, so too has the celebration of 420. Today, it’s common to see 420-themed events, concerts, and festivals in cities around the world. Cannabis culture has also become more mainstream, with celebrities and influencers openly discussing their use of marijuana.

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420 Critics Vs. Medical Use Argument

With the legalization of marijuana has come some criticism from those who argue that it promotes drug use and can have negative effects on society. Medical patients argue that it can be a valuable tool for medical treatment and has the potential to generate significant tax revenue for local, state, and federal governments.

420: A Cultural Phenomenon

The history of 420 is a fascinating event that highlights the power of a simple code word that can become a cultural phenomenon. From its humble and secret beginnings in San Rafael to its current status as a global celebration of cannabis culture, 420 has definitely come a long way, and it will be interesting to see what it looks like in another 10, 20, or 30 years. With the legalization of marijuana continuing to gain momentum, it’s clear that the future of 420 is bright.

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The Most Celebrated Day For Marijuana users

While 420 may hold a special significance for some individuals, it is important to remember that the use of any substance should be done responsibly and with caution. Cannabis can have both short-term and long-term effects on a person’s physical and mental health, and it can also be addictive for some individuals.

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The downside to the celebration of 420 and cannabis culture is that it can increase stereotypes and stigmas surrounding smoking weed, making it harder for federal legalization.

It is important to approach the topic of marijuana use with an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude. Whether or not one chooses to partake in cannabis use or celebrate 420, it is crucial to prioritize safety, education, and respect for individuals who may have different perspectives or experiences. We all have our own unique ways of having fun, and it’s important to respect and not judge how others choose to unwind, relax, medicate, or free their minds.

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Happy 420! Consume responsibly!

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Article reviewed by:

Dr. Richard Koffler

Richard Koffler, MD

NPI Number- 1467557264

  • Dr. Koffler is a Physiatrist, specializing in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 
  • Graduated from the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in 1993 Dr. Koffler completed a one-year internship in internal medicine at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. 
  • Residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Rusk Institute at NYU Medical Center in New York City. Board certified in 1998. 
  • Trained in acupuncture at Helms Medical Institute at UCLA His medical practice incorporates proven conventional western medicine integrating eastern alternative practices. 
  • Medical Director of several medical clinics in NYC, Stamford CT, and Miami Beach, FL.

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