Every year, avid cannabis consumers around the United States celebrate April 20th (or 4/20). Whether getting together with good friends, joining massive crowds at festivals, or indulging at home alone, most smokers use this day to enjoy cannabis in all its forms.
Now that 18 states have legalized recreational use, and 39 states allow medical use only, this holiday has become increasingly popular. Mainstream, commercialized events, such as festivals and smoke-outs, now mark the occasion, and cannabis dispensaries do their best to capitalize on the holiday when sales and giveaways. What was once a small, obscure holiday has become big business.
But, while many people celebrate our national “Weed Day,” many are not clear on its origin story. Although you don’t need to know the meaning behind the day to indulge, understanding the counter-culture roots of 4/20 can help us tap into the history of cannabis in the U.S. and tell us a lot about how the culture has changed over the years. And, if nothing else, it will give some interesting facts to share with your friends at your next 4/20 get-together.
What is the Story Behind 4/20?
Over the years, tales concerning the origins of 4/20 have made their way into the cannabis community. Some believe 4/20 is somehow related to Hilter’s birthday, April 20th, 1889, while others claim it is connected to the Bob Dylan song, “Everybody Must Get Stoned.” Other common beliefs include:
- The teatime in Holland
- The California penal code and police code for marijuana
- The number of active chemical compounds found in cannabis
Unfortunately, all of these theories have been disproved.
The exact reason for the celebration remains somewhat of a mystery, and there doesn’t seem to be just one “real story.” There is no documentation to either prove or disprove any of the tall tales mentioned above, instead, they all seem to contribute to the lore surrounding the holiday.
However, one 4/20 story out of Marin County, California, has the most legitimate claim to the history of the day.
Who Are The San Rafael Waldos?
In the 1970s, a group of 5 high school students — Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeff Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich — in San Rafael, California, would meet every day at 4:20 near the statue of Louis Pasteur outside of San Rafael High School. Their goal was to find the secret location of an abandoned cannabis plant supposedly left behind by a U.S. Coast Guard member in the nearby Point Reyes Forest. They would, of course, share a couple of joints between them while searching for the elusive plant.
The group started calling themselves “the Waldos” because they met at the wall near the Louis Pasteur statue every day. They reminded each other of their daily meet-up using the secret code “4:20 Louis” — referencing their meeting time and location. Four twenty was the perfect time for their meet-up because it was right after their school activities finished for the day. The Waldos’ member Steve Capper told the Huffington Post in 2010 that they would eventually leave off the “Louis” and just say “4:20,” and the name stuck.
While the group never did succeed in their treasure hunt for the lost cannabis plant, the inside joke continued on and eventually began to spread throughout the community. In fact, through Reddix’s older brother, the Waldos connected with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and began to hang out backstage at concerts. When meeting up with the band, the Waldos used often used the phrase “4:20” to point out that it was time to smoke. The phrase eventually caught on and was printed on flyers for a Grateful Dead concert.
It became even more popular once Steve Bloom at High Times Magazine reported on 4/20 and the Waldos in 1990. This story was also confirmed by Steven Hager, a former editor for High Times who references Waldo’s story in a New York Times interview in 2009.
While the group members do have Bloom’s published article and Hager’s confirmation to legitimize their story, many are still skeptical about its validity. Regardless of the truth behind it, the Waldos’ tale has endured because it connects 4/20 to the growth of California cannabis culture and the music of the 1970s.
4/20 in Literature
Another possible connection between cannabis and 4/20 is seen in the 1939 short story by H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling, “In The Walls of Eryx.” The narrator of the story describes a “curious plant” with a similar description to cannabis. This plant appears to get the narrator high each day around 4:20. Although this connection may seem like a far-fetched explanation for the holiday, it is still interesting to note that “In The Walls of Eryx” is likely the first documented link between cannabis and 4/20.
4/20 & Cannabis Legalization
April 20th has typically been a day to let loose, get high, and throw caution to the wind. However, with more states legalizing recreational use, the holiday has also become a day to acknowledge how far cannabis has come and push for further reform. While 4/20 was once a counter-culture holiday celebrated on society’s outskirts, it has become the perfect day for cannabis enthusiasts across the country to come together and protest regulations that persist today.
On the flip side, the entrance of big corporations into the market has caused a decrease in the counter-culture 4/20 celebrations of the 70s, 80, and 90s. Now, big-ticket events such as Cannabis Cup feature well-known cannabis-friendly artists, such as Snoop Dogg and 2 Chainz. Smoke-outs and comedy shows pull massive crowds, and trade shows feature the newest edibles, infusions, pipes, bongs, and grow equipment — giving companies a chance to showcase their products.
However, for many people, the holiday is more about honoring the plant and its benefits rather than focusing on the social and political issues that still surround cannabis and its legalization. These smokers often choose to smoke at home with friends on 4/20 or enjoy solo. For many, the day is still just about enjoying yourself.
Planning Your 4/20 Celebration? We Can Help!
How to buy the best quality flower for 4/20?
Whether or not this national holiday was started by a group of students in Northern California and spread throughout the country by a famous rock band, one thing is clear, 4/20 is a day of celebration. Therefore, you want to have the best cannabis flower on hand. As you shop, you should consider a few things when selecting top-tier flower, such as aroma, structure, trichome coverage, texture and moisture content, and genetics and THC percentages.
For a full break down of the best flower traits, read more in our article How To Evaluate Cannabis Flower In 5 Steps.
What are the best strains to smoke at a 4/20 celebration?
If you are headed to a 4/20 celebration you will likely want an uplifting, energizing strain that will not cause couch-lock and drowsiness. Below, we outline some of the best sativa or sativa leaning hybrids strains for your 4/20 events.
- Jack Herer – Best for Uplifting Effects
- Cereal Milk – Best for Focus
- Peach Ozz – Best for Candy Lovers
- Apple Fritter – Best for Stress Relief
- Iced Lemonade – Best for Creativity
- Green Cush – Best for Energy
- Chem Reserve – Best for Motivation
For more daytime strain recommendations, check out our article on the Best Cannabis Strains for Daytime Use.
The different types of 4/20 celebrations that exist today reflect the evolution of cannabis culture — where we were, how far we’ve come, and how much more we need to do. No matter how you choose to spend your 4/20, we hope you have a chance to light up and enjoy some incredible flower.