Both cannabis smokers and non-smokers alike recognize April 20th (or 4/20) as a “holiday” of sorts for cannabis culture. Still, not many people know why or how the number became linked to cannabis. Some people think 420 was originally a police code related to cannabis (it never was), or that it was tied to Hitler’s birthday somehow (what?), while others think it has to do with the number of compounds in cannabis (while this is true, it’s not the reason behind 4/20.)
In reality, cannabis’s biggest day of the year can be traced back to a group of California teens in the 1970s. Join us as we explore the history of 4/20 and share some facts about the day.
It all started with the Waldos
The story behind 4/20 isn’t super fun or exciting, but it’s something many teenagers who grew up in the 70s (and 80s...and 90s...and 00s) can relate to: meeting their friends after school at a certain time to partake in some illegal cannabis consumption. This group of boys (Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich) called themselves the “Waldos” because they met at a wall and met at 4:20 because by that time, the extracurricular activities at the school had ended. They used the word “420” with each other as a code word for cannabis.
Rumor has it that a treasure map to a secret cannabis patch was involved and that the boys met at 4:20 to try to find the patch -- they weren’t able to, but the meeting time of 4:20 stuck, and the rest is history.
The Grateful Dead were involved
So, the term “420” was coined by some teenagers in San Rafael, but how did it take off and become recognized on an international level? The Grateful Dead, of course! Members of the Waldos had various connections and access points to the Grateful Dead (Mark’s father managed their real estate and Dave’s brother was good friends with the Dead’s bassist.) As the guys hung around the Dead the expression caught on in the Deadhead community.
The terminology stayed within the Deadhead community for a bit, until December 28, 1990 when a group of Oakland Deadheads distributed flyers that invited people to smoke “420” on April 20th at 4:20 PM. One of the fliers landed in the hands of Steve Bloom, a former reporter for High Times magazine, who printed the flier in 1991 and continued to reference the number. Soon, it became known worldwide as a code for cannabis. In 1998, High Times acknowledged that the “Waldos” were the inventors of 420.
4/20 and the 2000s
Although 420 was first coined decades before, it didn’t reach its peak of popularity until the 2000s. The highly popular 4/20 smoke-out at the CU-Boulder campus drew over 25,000 people in 2011; the campus completely shut down on 4/20 between 2012-2015 in an effort to snuff out the annual event, even as recreational cannabis became legalized in the state. Today, the FlyHi 420 Festival in Denver touts itself as the world’s largest 420 festival. Unfortunately, it has been canceled this year due to COVID uncertainty.
This year’s 4/20 events include Couch Locked by Cookies, a 420 Comedy Livestream event that’s hosted by Berner himself, a music festival put on by Glass House Farms that features Flying Lotus, a Cypress Hill concert at LA’s legendary club The Roxy (VIPs can join the pre-show smoke sesh), and plenty of drive-in events, like the one in D.C. that’s showing cannabis cult classics How High and The Big Lebowski. For a running list of 4/20 events, head over to Leafly.
Rumor has it that the Nike SB Dunk High “Maui Wowie” high top sneaker will be released on 4/20 this year, too. The shoe features tropical patterning and hemp accents, and is expected to retail for $120. Check them out here.
Mainstream brands and 4/20
As recreational cannabis becomes legalized in more and more states, mainstream brands like Burger King, Pepsi, Uber, and more have tweeted cannabis references and offered special discounts on 4/20. In 2019, Uber partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a local dispensary to offer a $4.20 discount on rides to and from Downtown Denver. The same year, Totino tweeted, “To be blunt, pizza rolls are better when baked.” Even the police in Wyoming, Minnesota have taken a light-hearted approach to drug enforcement on 4/20 with this iconic tweet:
But it’s not all fun and games. In recent years, brands like Ben & Jerry’s have taken a more serious tone on 4/20, encouraging consumers to call on lawmakers to expunge prior cannabis convictions - a cause CULTA is 100% behind. Learn more about how one of our favorite nonprofits, the Last Prisoner Project, focuses on cannabis criminal justice reform.
4/20, CULTA style
This year, we’re excited to announce that 4/20 coincides with our highly anticipated Cookies #16 drop. We’ve invited the Powerzzzup duo to our flagship dispensary (and select partner dispensaries) for a COVID-safe hang out (masks and social distancing will be strictly enforced.) To make up for last year, we’re extending our 4/20 event across three days (4/16/21-4/18/21) and look forward to welcoming the Powerzzzup team to our dispensary. For more information about the events, visit our Events page.