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420 – What It Really Means And What Are The Origins Of The Global Smoking Time

420 Clock

As we still find ourselves in a global pandemic many 420 celebrations have been put on hold or cancelled all together. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, as global leaders drive vaccination efforts. 

420 Civil Disobedience

Pronounced four-twenty, the phrase refers to getting high at four-twenty every day and is annually observed on 20 April. Historically many stoned citizens from around the world celebrate the day by gathering together in protest of the prohibition of cannabis by lighting up together in civil disobedience. 


There are a few rumoured stories and tall tales that have been told as to the exact origin of the term 420. These include that the number 420 is the exact amount of active compounds in marijuana, it has also been associated with ‘Tea Time’ in Holland and Rainy Day Woman by Bob Dylan. 

The truth however was uncovered by Larry Sloman, aka Ratso, in his book Reefer Madness: A History of Marijuana, which was first published in 1979. According to Ratso the term 420 has roots from 1970 in California, by a bunch of teenagers who called themselves The Waldos.

Smoking at 420

The group had gotten wind of an abandoned plot of land, that was supposedly owned by a Coast Guard service member, completely covered in marijuana plants that are ready to be harvested. One afternoon The Waldos set a meeting time for 4:20 PM to take on the treasure hunt for the promised land. After a few days searching the neighbourhood, the group never found the abundance of cannabis they were dreaming of, but they were constantly blazed throughout their adventures. The Waldos used the term 420 to discuss smoking weed, growing the plant or even making plans while casually roaming the school corridors. 

Hunt continued day after day, they never found the rumoured treasure but the 420 stuck around and was a way of making marijuana plans or discussing smoking sessions. The waldos have their original 420 flag and letters that are postmarked where they used the phrase 420, proving they indeed did coin the phrase in the 1970s.


It was most probably the band The Grateful Dead that first introduced 420 to their audiences while touring the United States and later the globe. The older brother of one of The Waldos was friends with the band. They often joined the band for smoking sessions during the 70s, at their rehearsal lounge in California. 

Pass the Dutchie

In 1990 Steven Bloom was a reporter for High Times Magazine at the time. On Christmas day, he was wandering through the parking lot at the venue where The Grateful Dead was scheduled to perform. Steven was handed a flyer emblazoned with the set of numbers 420.

We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais. 420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California in the late ‘70s. It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression 420 when referring to herb – Let’s Go 420, dude!

High Times magazine later ensured that 420 would become an enduring phrase the world over with an article published in 1991. Steve Hager told the Huffington Post that he started incorporating it into everything they could.  “I started doing all these big events – the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and the Cannabis Cup – and we built everything around 420. The publicity that High Times gave it is what made it an international thing. Until then, it was relatively confined to the Grateful Dead subculture. But we blew it out into an international phenomenon.


The phrase has been used in pop culture and counterculture alike since the 1990s. In the popular 1994 crime-thriller movie Pulp Fiction; all of the clocks are set to 4:20. The Medical Marijuana Bill, named SB420, was codified in 2003 in California. ‘420 Friendly’ is a marker used on listings for accommodation and venues which allow its patrons to smoke marijuana on site. 

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Cross Joint

It has been reported that signs which include the number 420 are often stolen. In the USA there are a total of eleven 420 Mile Markers that need to be replaced so often they tried changing the marker to read 419.99, or 419.5 in some states. 

The pandemic has changed, possibly forever, how we celebrate 420. But we are going to come up with bigger and better ways to be together and celebrate a day that is all about appreciation for Mary Jane. Check out this guide to Planning a Post Pandemic Pot Party

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