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The History of 4/20: From Inside Joke to International Holiday

A time for commemoration, advocacy, and community, April 20th, aka “4/20” (fôhr twen-tee), is a date that has evolved from an inside joke among California stoners to an international holiday for cannabis culture observed by marijuana enthusiasts, medical patients, activists, and entrepreneurs around the world.

The origins of this unique countercultural celebration is clouded in myth and conjecture. As Time reports, “Some say ‘420’ is code among police officers for ‘marijuana smoking in progress.’ Some go as far as to cite Bob Dylan’s song ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & #35’ because 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420.” Others believe it represents the number of active chemicals in marijuana, or (gulp) teatime in Holland.

The most credible story however traces back to 1971 and five students at San Rafael High School in Marin County, CA, who became known as the “Waldos” (on account of always smoking against walls). This group—Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Steve Capper, Mark Gravich, and Larry Schwartz—would meet at 4:20pm by the campus’s statue of chemist Louis Pasteur to get high and go adventuring in Point Reyes forest, and began using the phrase “4:20”as code for cannabis and smoking sessions.

Here’s where things get interesting. Members of the Waldos had connections to the pioneers of the jam band world, the Grateful Dead. Reddix’s brother was good friends with bassist Phil Lesh and helped him get work with the band as a roadie. Naturally, the term “420” was being thrown around backstage, on tour buses, at parties—its sphere of influence quickly widening. The phrase evolved into a date and an event when on Dec. 28, 1990, a group of Deadheads in Oakland handed out flyers that reportedly said, “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.”

Steve Bloom, at the time a reporter for High Times magazine, happened to be at that Dead show and received a flier. It was the first time he’d heard of the term. It wasn’t long after that the first mention of 4:20 smoking and a 4/20 holiday appeared in the magazine in May 1991. The phrase, and the informal celebration it inspired, was soon adopted worldwide.

With 4/20 festivities now internationally ubiquitous, what the date stands for varies from person to person, locale to locale. To many, it’s a time for releasing inhibitions, meeting new people, and having fun. For others, like those living in regions with restricted access to recreational and/or medical cannabis, for instance, participating in the holiday acts as a protest of the legal barriers and social stigma attached to marijuana consumption.

In California, we are fortunate to enjoy a relatively progressive state marijuana policy that has been at the forefront of efforts to legalize and liberalize cannabis. In fact, in 2003, California Senate Bill 420 was introduced and passed to regulate medical marijuana use, a not-so-implicit nod to the status of “420” in cannabis culture. (Recreational was legalized with the passing of Proposition 64 in November 2016.)

As purveyors of fine cannabis flower and products, HerbNJoy takes the responsibility of providing safe and affordable access to cannabis products very seriously, always operating in strict compliance with all local and state guidelines. We like to think of 4/20 as a time for coming together and appreciating the positive role that cannabis can play in our lives and in our communities. We invite you to join us in celebration, recognition, and gratitude at an HerbNJoy store or delivery service near you!

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