Sifting Through Mists Of Myth To Sleuth The Truth

You’re reading The 420 Times. So it’s a safe bet that you know what “420” means. Yes, it refers to reefers. This magazine focuses on medicinal, not recreational, cannabis. But for decades “420” has been a code word for weed in general.

The term first appeared in the early ‘70s. And yet its origin remains cloaked in mystery, legend, urban myth, misinformation, occasionally even outright weirdness. Literally thousands of articles, celebrity anecdotes, blog entries, media commentaries – even books – have dealt with the issue. And still the myths persist!

So let’s take a moment to – so to speak – blow away the smoke, and bring some clarity to The 420 Question. Let’s start with what “420” is not:

420 is not a police radio code calling officers to some “pot in progress” location. In California, a 420 offense refers to unlawful obstruction of access to public land. In case you’re keeping score, the Health and Safety Code that deals with controlled substances (including, but not specifically, marijuana) is #11350.
420 is not a Penal Code number. Many states do have a code #420, but we couldn’t find any that relate to cannabis, recreational or medical. (India has a Penal Code 420, which deals with bilking people out of property or money. That same code also applies to fraud in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.)
4/20 (April 2Oth) is not the “best day to plant cannabis.” Please. To limit agriculture to one “best day” is preposterous! Planting seasons vary with location, soil composition, rainfall, etc., so the very idea is wildly illogical. Would you claim that October 20th is the “best day” to plant cannabis in Argentina, an equivalent temperate climate south of the Equator?
420 is not the total of chemical elements in cannabis. Nor is it number of molecules in THC, or any such nonsense. Cannabis consists of roughly 315 components, depending on variety.
420 is not “tea time in Holland.” Wait. Why Holland? The idea makes no sense, despite the enlightened Dutch attitude regarding ingestion of coffee, tea, cannabis, whatever. For one thing, 4:20 P.M. in Europe is usually expressed as “1620”.
4/20 (in 1943) is not the date of the first “acid trip.” But even if it were, what does that have to do with marijuana? Let’s keep our substances straight. According to lab notes kept by the pioneering Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, he first dipped into LSD on 4/16/43. By coincidence, it apparently was at about twenty after four that afternoon. Hey, even anecdotal clocks get it right sometimes.
420 does not imitate the “dangle” of a Rastafarian doobie. This loopy idea holds that – seen from the side – the joint hangs down at an angle analogous to the position of 4:20 on a clock’s face. But even if this were remotely sane, it would hold true only for the right profile. The left face would represent 7:40 (twenty to eight).
Many myths involve Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead. To wit:

The Grateful Dead did not “always stay in room 420” in hotels when on tour. For one thing, grown men prefer their own individual rooms. For another, several people involved with the band have debunked the idea as ludicrous.

420 was not the street address of the “Dead’s” office in San Francisco. Some fans spread the word that Jerry Garcia and the band were headquartered at 420 Ashbury. At one point in the mid-60s the band’s business office was, in fact, located at 710 Ashbury. The Deadheads were only three blocks off. Not bad for stoners.

4:20 was not the exact time of Garcia’s passing. According to reliable media sources, his body was discovered on August 9, 1995 at 4:23 A.M. For him to have died at 4:20, the discovery would have to have been made exactly three minutes after his demise. Please return to Planet Earth. What are the odds of this happening?

The Date Nuts
Legend often links April 20th with the supposed births or deaths of pop culture icons – usually those considered enthusiastic inhalers. Most frequently mentioned, besides Garcia: Tommy Chong, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison.

None of the above was either born or died on 4/20. None.

One persistent legend is that cannabis activist Tommy Chong was born at 4:20 (AM or PM – your choice) on April 20. But Tommy says he was born on May 24, 1938, although he has no clear recollection of the time. His birth certificate is unavailable for checking. This raises the question: how could others know the exact hour and minute if he doesn’t?

Let’s consider some random celebrities – not linked with weed – who were, in fact, born on April 20th. In no particular order: Comedian Steven Colbert; Sex symbol Carmen Electra; Jazz man Lionel Hampton; Painter Joan Miró; Genocidal maniac Adolf Hitler; Salsa king Tito Puente; Actress Jessica Lange; Emperor Napoleon III of France. Among those deceased on a 4/20: Ventriloquist Señor Wences; Mexican comedian Cantinflas; British funnyman Benny Hill; Poet and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish; Novelist Bram Stoker (Dracula) and that gifted wig-head, Composer George Frederick Handel. Now – what was your point about April 20th?

Where’s Waldo?
Here’s the real story. The expression 420, used as we understand it today, springs from an informal (and youthful) weed-smoking society at a high school in San Rafael, California circa 1971. They called themselves the Waldos, because they liked to meet at a wall (wall + doobie?) near school for a smoke at 4:20, clustered around a statue of Louis Pasteur, the eminent French microbiologist who invented “pasteurization” – but who is not known to have used cannabis in any form.
Even in the days before “viral marketing,” the password “420 Louie” spread like, um, wildfire throughout the cannabis community. The original Waldos (now bordering on genteel middle age) report repeatedly encountering their expression – soon slimmed down to simply “420” – in many places very far from San Rafael.

And now we’re using it, and so are you. Hats off to the Waldos!

By The 420 Times staff writer Dean Christopher

13 Responses

  1. John Perry Barlow

    And why, exactly, should we believe YOUR version? I personally believe the slightly more plausible story that this is, or at least was, the time when the staff at High Times would gather in the editor’s office each afternoon to bake the day.

  2. kevin

    I have heard this report of gathering at 4:20 outside the school in California recently as well… and it has more of the ring of truth than any other rumor that has been sported. The FIRST time I heard “420” was in the Saturday Night Live 007 spoof sketch “Agent 420” which totally escaped me cause I had no idea what 420 meant… except that “it’s always 4:20 somewhere…” as his theme song went.

  3. mike

    Nobody knows where 420 came from because that guy or girl that came up with 420 were soo stoned they forgot where they got 420 from.

  4. Sdoobie

    I love to smoke weed!! Ok now that that’s out of the way, I first heard of “420” in the 6th grade. I was told it was the police radio call for marijuana in possesion. Go figure I believe it. I myself wright for a newspaper, and I really enjoyed this article. whether it’s true or not… Remember this is all for entertainment!!!!!!!!

  5. smokeweed

    lol @ sdoobie. you “wright” for a newspaper? i hope you don’t WRITE like that. stoned motherf**ker lol

  6. Max

    Actually the police code isn’t h&s 11350 that’s for all drugs other than marijuana. The actual one for marijuana is h&s 11356b

  7. casanova77

    don’t believe that story from 1971 and those college students, its COMPLETELY FALSE. the truth is and i saw it on a documentary and looked it up.
    It was the California bill number SB 420 that was passed in 2003 steming from the compassionate act of 1996. which basically legalized medical marijuana and that the doctors who prescribed it wouldnt get arrested for it etc…in 2003 everyone had to be issued a ID medical card to show that you are a medical user.
    So back then everyone was spreading the word vote “YES to bill 420”. so after it passed and to keep it going those numbers turned into a date 4/20 and time 4:20 stuck. if you dont believe me look up that california bill SB 420….spread the word

  8. stickyy

    How do you know the waldo story is real? I mean doesn’t it seem funny that we all celebrate the day 420 like its a huge deal, just for it all to be from a couple guys at high school smoking by a wall? please respond

  9. Bobbiebanger

    The idea is that April 20th is the earliest time to put your plants out and not have to worry about them freezing and the term would have originated were this applies in all of the states excluding Alaska and Hawaii that’s why they do not know what 420 is in Australia I lived there for three years

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