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The Hazy Truth Of It All

Like the born again Christian Bob Dylan says, “Everybody must get stoned.” Not really, it’s a choice like anyother, but if ya do want to chill and relax…the weeds is the way. So, today is the infamous day for stoners all around the world. It is like our Superbowl, Christmas and ‘happy endings’ all in one 9not really, but it does sound nice. The folklore surrounding the date and the time 420 are numerous and oft., hillarious. Let’s check it out, yo.

According to the claim that 420 (read four twenty, not four hundred and twenty) signifies the time of day one must light up a joint is….da da daaaaaa, true. I don’t know if it is self fulfilling prophecy, or which came first-the stoner chicken, or the egg made of weed-but all around the world 420 has become the time everyday, esp. today which is the fourth month and the twentieth day, that one must go “Bob Marley.”

This particular piece of distinctly California folklore, to me, is a lot like Woodstock. In reality, there were only a few 100,000 peeps at the historic music festival, but the amount of peeps claiming to actually be there number in the millions. There are many stories about how 420 got started and what it means and the number of peeps originally involved, but there are actual numbers and real data.

In 1971 a group of 12 San Rafael H.S. students created the slang term 420 because they needed a time to meet at the statue to get their stone on. Already I have heard different stories concerning this. My travels have produced the data that there were 4 or 5 students in Santa Cruz that came up with the lingo and, according to my stoner sources, it was in the 80’s (agh, the 80’s Le sigh). Snopes offers quite a bit more about the mythical parts of the origins…

  • 420 is the penal code section for marijuana use in California. Nope. Section 420 of the California penal code refers to obstructing entry on public land. The penal codes of other states list different entries for 420, but none of them matches anything having to do with marijuana. However, on 1 January 2004 the Governor of California signed that state’s Senate Bill 420, which regulates marijuana used for medical purposes. This bill comes years after the term ‘420’ was associated with marijuana and indeed its number likely was chosen because of the existing pop culture connection. This is the tail wagging the dog, not the other way around.
  • It’s the Los Angeles or New York police radio code for marijuana smoking in progress. It’s not the police radio code for anything, let alone that.
  • It’s the number of chemical compounds in marijuana. The number of chemical compounds in marijuana is 315, according to the folks at High Times magazine.
  • April 20 is the date that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, or Janis Joplin died. Though these performers were strongly identified with drug use during their brief lifetimes and the emerging drug culture after their demises, none of them kicked the bucket on April 20. Morrison died on July 3, Hendrix on September 18, and Joplin on October 4.
  • The 20th of April is the best time to plant marijuana. There’s no one “best time” — that answer would change from one part of the country to another, or even one country to another.
  • Albert Hofmann took the first deliberate LSD trip at 4:20 on 19 April 1943. This was indeed the case — his lab notes back this up. But this wasn’t the source of “420,” just an oddball coincidence. (For the pedants out there, Hofmann’s first LSD trip, which was accidental, took place on 16 April 1943.)
  • It’s the code you send to your drug dealer’s pager. Yeah, right. All drug dealers recognize a ‘420’ page as “Please be waiting on the corner with my baggie of wildwood weed.”
  • When the Grateful Dead toured, they always stayed in Room 420. Untrue, says Grateful Dead Productions spokesman Dennis McNally.(

I had heard about the police code one, but all the other ones…never. So apparently it was HS kids, the 12 apostles of pot in San Rafael, not Santa Cruz, that started is international meme (thanks older homies, really, thanks) that is so prevalent and influential.  It kind of makes me/you/us wonder…what did we call it before. Awesomeness.

* Snopes Home

* Snopes 420


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