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How 420 Became A Marijuana Phenomenon

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Mathematicians say there’s something interesting about every number. They can tell you facts intrinsic to the nature of any digit. This can be fascinating, depending on how good you are at maths and how high you are. The properties numbers exhibit in the laws of nature are just the beginning. Humans then assign certain associations to different numbers. The rule of thirds. Lucky seven. These get more specific depending on what culture you’re exploring. Each has its own memes and symbolism surrounding a certain number. In the case of marijuana enthusiasts, 420 is that special number. But why that number? How did it, just, become a thing?


Stories circulate about the origin of 420, quite possibly from newcomers trying to guess why it became synonymous with weed. Some of the explanations are pretty out there, so at the risk of reinforcing the Familiarity Backfire Effect, let’s debunk some misconceptions surrounding 420. For example, 420 is not the number of cannabinoids in cannabis.

Given the connection people like Bob Marley had to marijuana, it’s also a misconception that 4/20 (or April 20th) is a reference to the date he died or was born. Not true. Nor is this the case with other musicians lumped into this myth like Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison.

Another musical myth about 420 was that the Grateful Dead insisted on staying in hotel rooms with the number 420 on tour. While they are known to be keen supporters of cannabis, they were not quite that fastidious about it.

420 is not the police radio code for a marijuana offence in progress. Nor is it the number of any penal code relating to cannabis. As for any piece of cannabis legislation with the number 420, there has only been one, California Senate Bill 420. This was in 2003, however, long after the term’s popularisation. And no one knows who got that number assigned to the bill.

Bob Marley Tribute Cannabis Consumer


So, where did 420 actually come from? As it turns out, the origins are more mundane and everyday, but in a very humanising way. San Rafael is a Californian town north of San Francisco. The San Rafael High School wanted to encourage good study from students, so they built a statue of French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur. This important figure in science came to symbolise something different for a certain group of students. In the 1970s, a group of friends met regularly at the secluded statue to smoke marijuana. They usually met there around 4:20pm, and would arrange to meet simply by using the code word “420”.

It’s a very relatable story to seek out a discreet place to smoke marijuana in defiance of authority. As such, this story spread throughout California. Given the influence of California’s weed culturethroughout the world, it spread further. But ultimately, 420 refers to the time of the afternoon these particular people smoked marijuana.

Perhaps those looking to moderate their cannabis use could wait until such a time before enjoying their earliest joint. 4:20 (the time) has basically become synonymous with cannabis use, with many lighting up when they are reminded of the occasion. It also happens to be the exact time of day Albert Hofman first experimented with LSD in his lab. This was a coincidence (unless there’s something scientifically conducive to getting high at that particular time).



Sound out co-workers and acquaintances on their familiarity with cannabis by idly saying, “It’ll be 4:20 soon”. People who enjoy weed end up discovering this magical number one way or another, so it does remain a handy code word.

Many online dating profiles now feature the phrase “420 friendly”. When picking an international day to recognise the activism for cannabis legalization, the 20th of the fourth month seemed an ideal choice. April 20th sees events celebrating cannabis around the world. These range from festivals in accepting countries to protests in more prohibitive ones. See what events are happening near you. The day has become important to mark progress for cannabis acceptance around the world. You know what time to be there.


Source: How 420 Became A Marijuana Phenomenon – RQS Blog

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