The Real Reason We Associate 420 With Marijuana

Whether you know a lot about marijuana or a little bit about it, we’ve all heard the term “420” and associate it with smoking weed. But where did the idea of 420 come from? Where did this association originate? Read on to learn the origin of 420, the real reason we associate 420 with marijuana, and how everything on 4/20 started with some high school kids.  

It All Began with Some High School Kids

The origins of 420 can be traced back to five high school kids in 1971. The students—Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich—all attended San Rafael High School in Marin County, California. Since smoking weed was illegal in 1971, the students had to do it in secret and needed a code to indicate their plans. And that’s where 420 came from. The five students chose 420 as their code because it was the time they planned to meet to smoke weed. What does 420 mean? There’s no significance in 420 except that it indicated 4:20 pm when most of the students’ extracurricular activities were over. The students would then meet by a statue to use marijuana. 

So why did five high school students’ code words become so universal? It happened when one of the students—Dave Reddix—became a roadie for the bassist Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. Another student—Mark Gravich—also had connections to the Grateful Dead through his dad. The students would pass a joint to band members and fans and say, “420.” By 1990, Grateful Dead fans would send out flyers to invite people to smoke weed on April 20 at 4:20 pm. 

Some people may have heard that 420 actually referred to the California police code or the California penal code for marijuana use. Despite this theory’s popularity for a time, there’s no evidence that supports those claims. Instead, the Marin County high schoolers were able to show that they used the term first, and that is now the accepted story for the 420 origins. 

What Is 4/20? And Why Is It on April 20?

With the Grateful Dead fans using marijuana on 4/20 at 4:20, the phrase took off. Most people began using it as a calendar date. Basically, the code word used by a few high school students in California became a date to celebrate weed for calendar purposes—since the time 4:20 could easily be converted to a calendar date. Now, 4/20 is the day of celebration where many people come together to celebrate weed and get high together. 

How Is 420 Celebrated?

Most 4/20 celebrations are a chance for people to gather and share a joint. There are many large gatherings held around the world for people to celebrate 4/20. As these celebrations have increased in popularity, the celebrations can now be immense and include many commercial vendors and activities. In addition, 4/20 celebrations are used to raise awareness for marijuana legalization, especially in places where it hasn’t been legalized yet. 

A good example of this type of 420 celebrations is the enormous gathering in Hyde Park, London in 2019. Thousands of people came together to share a joint, celebrate, and protest against the UK’s laws prohibiting the use of marijuana and possession of marijuana. Covid-19 drastically affected 420 celebrations in 2020 and 2021, and most people celebrated on their own during those years. 

Where Is 420 Celebrated?

What once began as a code among California high school students is now a global phenomenon. 420 is celebrated all over the world now on April 20. The main organized rallies and celebrations, though, usually take place in historically significant locations for cannabis usage. Big rallies take place in Colorado, California, Michigan, and Florida to celebrate the marijuana holiday and to advocate for legalization. 

The Bottom Line

Overall, 420 began as a code word for five high schoolers to tell each other they would meet at their wall in the school to smoke a joint. The original term was entirely focused on the time of day the students would meet, and it was chosen for the time they could all gather after their activities. From there, the Grateful Dead helped the term take off and become a part of marijuana terminology. 

Eventually, the term became a day of celebration and has led to large gatherings in many places to celebrate marijuana. Because of the large celebrations, most people—whether they have ever smoked a joint or not—have heard of 420. It’s pretty amazing that the simple beginnings in San Rafael High School could lead to something that is so a part of our culture now. 

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