Where Does The Term 420 Come From?


Have you noticed?  Today is April 20th, or 4/20, also known as “National Weed Day” because the date corresponds with the numerical code for marijuana.

That got us wondering, how did the number 420 come to represent marijuana?

First, let’s get the rumors out of the way.  To do that, we had to visit Snopes.com.

Some claim the number is drawn from the California criminal codes used to punish the use or distribution of marijuana.  Nope.  Section 420 of the California penal code refers to obstructing entry on public land.  The penal codes in other states list different entries for 420, but none of them has anything to do with marijuana.  It isn’t the radio code used by police for calling in offenders either.  Roger that.

Could it be the number of chemical compounds in marijuana?  Not quite.  The number of chemical compounds in marijuana is 315, according to the folks at High Times magazine.

Another bit of “Fake News:” April 20th is the date that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin died.  Though they were strongly identified with drug use during their lives, none of them actually died on April 20th.  Morrison died on July 3rd, Hendrix on September 18th, and Joplin on October 4th.  Let’s keep looking.

Maybe Bob Dylan’s song, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” has something to do with it.  You know, “Everybody must get stoned.”  Multiply 12 by 35 and you get 420.  It is a possibility, but he never confirmed that.

Now, we’re getting somewhere.  According to the Oaksterdam Cannabis Museum in California, 420 started as a secret code among high school students in the 1970’s.  A group of friends at San Rafael High School called “The Waldos” would often meet at 4:20 PM to get high.  For them, it was an ideal time: They were out of school but their parents still weren’t home, giving them a window of unsupervised freedom.

The 4:20 time became a code for them to use in front of their unsuspecting parents, and 420 gradually spread across California and beyond.  (Nowadays we’d say it went viral!)

“The Waldos” story seems to be the the most likely, but I guess we’ll never actually know for sure.


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