Where Did 4/20 Come From?


Many marijuana enthusiasts gather with their friends to enjoy smoking on April 20th, now a tradition across the United States. However, the start of this tradition is a little muddier. There are many false stories that have spread talking about where 4/20 came from, and most people don’t know how this all began. The truth is, it began with a few high school students in California. Read below to learn why some of the false stories can’t be true and learn more about the history of 4/20, how it got started, and how it spread across the US to become the standard codeword for smoking marijuana as well as the national smoking day.

False: The Police Code for Smoking Marijuana

One of the most pervasive myths is that 4-20 is a police radio code for marijuana-related activities. Many versions of the story say that 4-20 is the code for possession of marijuana or public marijuana smoking in California. The idea is that people would hear the police code if they were caught smoking, so it ended up being used as a code for smokers to talk about marijuana without others knowing what they were talking about. However, there never was a 4-20 code in California. In fact, the only police department in the United States that uses 4-20 as a code is in Las Vegas. In Vegas, it’s actually the code for homicide and has nothing to do with marijuana.

False: The Number of Chemical Compounds in Cannabis

Plants are made up of a number of different compounds. Something like marijuana is incredibly complex, as there is more than just THC in the plant. This has led to a rumor starting that there are 420 chemical compounds that can be found in the average cannabis strain. While marijuana does have a large number of chemical compounds in it, the number is around 500 instead of 420. This includes all of the different terpenes as well as cannabinoids. So, scientists who have studied marijuana can’t be credited for the creation of 420, since that is not actually the number of chemical compounds.

False: A Celebrity Tribute

Plenty of stories abound that attribute 420 to a celebrity’s birth or death, with the celebrities varying based on who’s telling the story. However, none of the celebrities often discussed in the story of where ‘420’ came from were born on or died on April 20th. Some of the celebrities most often attributed to this story of how 4/20 came to be include the following:

  • Jimi Hendrix – born November 27, 1942, died September 18, 1970
  • Kurt Cobain – born February 20, 1967, died April 5, 1994
  • Janis Joplin – born January 19, 1943, died October 4, 1970
  • Bob Marley – born February 6, 1945, died May 11, 1981

Though all of them did share a love of marijuana, these stories are false because none of them were born on April 20th, and none of them passed away on April 20th. Still, many fans do listen to their music during the April 20th celebrations in tribute to them, which is likely where and how these stories originated.

False: The Best Time to Plant Cannabis

Another pervasive myth is that 4/20 is the perfect time to plant cannabis to ensure a healthy plant with a high yield. There are many different problems with this story. First, April 20th is not the right time of year to start an outdoor plant in many places. Plus, there’s no difference between planting it on the 19th or the 21st in places where cannabis can be planted in April. For those who grow indoors, there aren’t any restrictions on when to plant as the climate is controlled. The time 4:20 is also meaningless, as marijuana plants can be planted at any time of the day, with no ill effect on the health of the plant or the expected yield.

The Truth: A Few Kids in High School Looking for Marijuana Plants

The true story, though it might not be as interesting as the number of chemical compounds or the police code for marijuana, lies with a group of teenagers who enjoyed smoking marijuana in the ‘70s. The group, known as The Waldos, discovered a map that was supposed to direct them to a place where marijuana was being grown by someone who could no longer keep up with the plants. They decided to meet up after school, at 4:20, to smoke and then head out looking for the alleged marijuana plot.

The teens didn’t find the plot that day, or any other day they tried to look for it. However, they would say “420” to each other to remind the rest of the group that they planned on smoking and going to look for the plot again after school. They did this for weeks, never finding the plants, but eventually, ‘420’ just turned into a codeword for them.

How the 420 Term Spread

Around the time the Waldos were creating their new codeword, the Grateful Dead moved in close by. One of the Waldos’ parents was actually the real estate agent for the Grateful Dead, and one of their brothers was a good friend of the bassist. This led to the 420 codeword being used around the band, then spreading through the shows as everyone would say the codeword as they started to smoke or when they wanted to see if anyone had anything to smoke. As the Grateful Dead toured and fans followed, the codeword began to spread. By the ‘90s, the codeword was heard all across the United States. At some point, April 20th became the day to hang out and smoke marijuana, and this, too, spread across the United States, with celebrations getting bigger every year.

Though some of the origin stories for 420 are interesting, none of them really have any merit other than the one about the Waldos. They have provided evidence showing they first used the codeword, and other stories actually originated far later. Though it might be fun to think about the number as a tribute to a celebrity or a police code, the true story lies in the events created by a few teenagers back in the ‘70s.

Marijuana Seeds