What is 420 and why does every pot-head friend you know get excited whenever he or she sees this number?
You know when you’re at a bakery and they have one of those ticket dispensers that assigns everyone a number? There’s usually a digital sign at the counter that displays “Now Serving #…” . You go and grab a ticket and find that you’ve been assigned number 69. You high five your friends and approach the counter laughing at the 69 number on display for all to see. It’s funny because it’s the name of a sexual position and you’re there to buy a mother’s day cake- not engage in any sexual activity at all. That’s what makes it funny.
What the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about that other number that pops up that makes your stoner friends giggle and yell it out loud. The number is 420 and for some reason it has become ingrained in marijuana culture as some sort of cult-like sacred number. We’re all guilty of it- those of us who partake in recreational use of cannabis products. I love how they call it recreational like I’m participating in some intramural sport or something. Like smoking a joint is the equivalent of being the captain of an Ultimate Football team. The difference being one of these recreational activities is fun and the other one is for douche bags.
Take the Oh Henry 4:25 bar. It’s not 4:20 because you get the munchies 5 minutes after you get high. Get it?
For further proof of the 420 phenomenon here is the annual 420 gathering at Parliament Hill in Canada’s capital of Ottawa on April 20th.
It began as a protest against the prohibition of pot but later became an annual thing which will probably evolve into a marijuana festival. Now you finally have a decent excuse to go to Ottawa besides being “on the way to Montreal”.
So where did this crazy number get it’s origin? April 20th happens to be Adolph Hitler’s birthday so are stoners a bunch of white supremacists? Is there a connection between cannabis and the most evil man that walked the earth? The answer is no it’s just a coincidence. Just like that ticket that said 69 in the bakery. It’s a real number and will inevitably pop up in your life randomly. Feel free to giggle but lets keep Hitler out of this.
There’s a few origin stories that are closely connected to 420 so lets go over them.
A Police Code
One story involves a journalist for the magazine High Times and Pot Culture, Steven Bloom who attended a Grateful Dead concert in 1991. At the concert he was handed a flyer that said something like: meet at this location for 420-ing at 4:20 pm. On the back of the flyer it allegedly explained that police used the code 420 when a bunch of teenagers were smoking refer somewhere. The city where this started was San Rafel California.
A Treasure Map
Back in the year of our lord 1971, five students from San Rafael High School were in the hunt for hidden treasure. The hidden treasure was a crop of unattended marijuana plants just waiting to be smoked. The gang would meet in front of the statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20pm. They cleverly titled this scheme 4:20 Louis. They also called themselves the Waldos because they’d meet by a wall outside the school. And I thought it’s because no one ever knew where they were.
After multiple failed attempts at finding the legendary crop the five lads dropped the Louis moniker and stuck to 420. Everytime they’d meet by the statue they would call it 420 and probably engage in after-school recreational activities.
Dead Heads Again?
The other story is that Steven Hager of High Times wrote the story of the Waldos and was able to promote it as legend to the Dead Heads (Grateful Dead fans for those post Gen X). How did he do that? By being a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. How was he was able to be a High Times journalist, a roadie for a famous band, and create the legend of 420? It doesn’t sound impossible but quite improbable.
One thing all these stories have in common is San Rafel, The Grateful Dead, and the Waldos. Dead Heads are cult-like themselves so it wouldn’t be surprising if the origin of 420 started with them.
Where Does 420 go from here?
420 was a code that made you feel like you were part of a movement. If you were in class learning about history and the teacher said turn to page 420 all the cool kids would start snickering. It’s like they were in on a joke and the punchline was outdated laws. They were right to laugh because it was countering the stupid war on drugs.
420 in the marijuana culture will always stand for one thing: counter-culture. It wasn’t so long ago marijuana was decried as the devil’s lettuce! A scourge upon humanity that turned men into violent rapist and made women vulnerable. On April 20th almost every legislature in major cities in Canada would have a protest of people from all walks of life. Sure it looked like a party but it was also a demonstration of peace and proof that this substance should be legalized.
We were right. The politicians finally gave in and legalized marijuana. 420 may have started in some high school in California but today it stands up to those who lied to us just to win a war on drugs that was unwinnable. Tomorrow it will be used by corporations to promote their brands every April. So what? 420 went from a protest movement to St. Pattys day for stoners. Now we can relax and eat our green packaged Oh Henry’s without being hassled by the man!
It doesn’t matter where it came from all that matters is it’s symbolism for a culture that was illegal and now celebrated.