The 420 Mystery: What’s so special about smoking cannabis at 4:20 in the afternoon?

When it comes to cannabis, one time in particular has captured the imagination of consumers around the world: 4:20 in the afternoon. But how did this tradition come about and why has it become a symbol of cannabis culture?

Unraveling the origin of 420

Over the years, various theories have been proposed about the origin of the term “420.” Some of these are more plausible than others, but most have been largely debunked.

Below, we look at some of the myths and truths surrounding this peculiar phenomenon:

The Waldos: real creators of 420

According to research conducted by media outlets such as the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times and High Times, the 420 tradition began with a group of teenagers nicknamed the Waldos, who grew up in Marin County, California. This group used to gather by a wall near San Rafael High School, hence their nickname.

Members of the Waldos, such as Mark Gravitch, Dave Reddix and Steve Capper, initially kept their identities secret to protect their lives and future careers. Over time, however, these young men have openly embraced their role in cannabis history.

Searching for the lost plantation

The reason the Waldos chose the number 420 is because they used to meet at 4:20 p.m. to search for a lost cannabis plantation near the Point Reyes Coast Guard Station.

Although they never found the mythical source of free marijuana, the group coined the term “420” as code for cannabis without their parents and teachers knowing about it.

The Grateful Dead’s role in the popularization of 420

It is likely that the term 420 would have fallen into obscurity had it not been for Waldo Dave’s older brother, who was a friend of Phil Lesh, bassist for the Grateful Dead. Adopting the term 420, Lesh and the Grateful Dead spent the next 35 years touring the world, smoking cannabis and passively popularizing the connection between the number 420 and cannabis use.

420 in popular culture

Over time, the number 420 has found its way into popular culture in a variety of ways, cementing itself as a symbol of cannabis use.

Let’s look at some examples of how 420 has made its mark in the world of entertainment and politics:

Pulp Fiction and the clocks striking 4:20

In Quentin Tarantino’s iconic film, all the clocks are synchronized to always show 4:20. Although no explicit mention of cannabis is made in the film, this detail is a nod to the subculture surrounding 420.

Cannabis legislation and Bill 420

In California, a bill to legalize medical marijuana carried the name “Bill 420.” This name was not chosen at random, but was in recognition of the role 420 has played in the history of cannabis.

The theft of the 420 mile marker signs.

In Denver, Colorado, the sign marking mile 420 on Interstate 70 has been stolen so many times that authorities decided to replace it with a less conventional sign marking mile 419.99. This fact demonstrates the power of the 420 myth and how it has become a symbol of cannabis culture.

420 in the Internet Age

Popularity of 420 has grown even more with the advent of the Internet and social media, which has allowed cannabis enthusiasts around the world to connect and share their 420-related experiences. Here are some of the ways 420 has made its mark in the digital world.

420 events and gatherings

Today, events and gatherings around 420 are commonplace, both indoors and outdoors. These gatherings attract people of all ages and backgrounds, who come together to celebrate their love of cannabis and their appreciation for the 420 tradition.

“Friends of 420” roommate ads on Craigslist

On classified ad websites like Craigslist, it’s common to find roommate listings that describe themselves as “friends of 420.” This indicates that they are open to living with people who use cannabis and is often a way to make a connection with other 420 enthusiasts.

April 20 events in cities around the world

April 20, also known as 4/20, has become something of an unofficial holiday for the cannabis using community. In cities such as Denver, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, planned and promoted events are held to celebrate this special occasion.


The 420 phenomenon is a perfect example of how a simple idea can become a global, unifying symbol for a particular subculture. Despite its humble origins in a group of teenagers searching for a lost cannabis plantation, 420 has become a symbol of the cannabis legalization movement and a celebration of freedom of expression and creativity.

Over time, 420 will likely continue to evolve and find new ways to infiltrate popular culture. What will not change, however, is its connection to the cannabis-using community and its role as a reminder of the importance of friendship, adventure and the pursuit of the unknown.