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The Real Origins of '420'

By Rob Tait

How many names can you think of for Cannabis?

How about 420? No, not the number. The name. Ever wonder where it really came from?

A number of stories have emerged over the years to explain its origins. So, today, as a public service, we’re going to tell you how it really came to be. But first, let’s put to bed some of the rumours, myths and wild folklore surrounding its provenance.

Myth #1: 420 is the section of the California Penal Code dealing with Cannabis (See also, the Los Angeles Police radio code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress).

Wrong and wrong. According to, “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, (the Las VEGAS Police Department does use the radio code 420, but it’s for Homicide, not Cannabis smoking), but none of them has anything to do with pot.”

Myth #2: There are 420 chemical compounds in marijuana.

Yeah…no. The correct number is 315.

Myth #3: Wait, isn’t April 20 is the date that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, or Janis Joplin died? Or that Bob Marley was born?

Not even close. None of them came into or left the world on this date. Ask Wikipedia.

Myth #4: The 20th of April is the day every Cannabis grower plants his or her seeds.

Maybe…somewhere…in the northern hemisphere. But, no. There is no “best day” to plant cannabis. Especially if you’re into hydroponics.

Myth #5: Albert Hofmann took his first LSD trip at 4:20 on 19 April 1943.

Okay, different substance, for starters, but his first trip happened by accident, on April 16. It is true that he had such a remarkable trip that he set out to do it again, on purpose, at 4:20 pm, on the 19th. Still…no, not where the name was cooked up.

Myth #6: It is "teatime" in Holland – when smokers light up every afternoon.

Nonsense. Nor was it the date that cannabis coffee shops were legalized.

Myth #7: It comes from a Bob Dylan song

It’s true that in "Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35," Dylan repeatedly chants, "Everybody must get stoned," and that Bob famously turned the Beatles on to pot, and that, yes, 12 x 35 = 420…we’ll pause while you get out your calculator… but, nope. Even Bob wouldn’t claim this one.

Myth #8: Okay, then how about the hotel room Grateful Dead always chose when on tour?

Untrue, says Dennis McNally, a spokesman for the band. However, the Dead connection is the closest to the truth!

Myth #9: It was coined in 1971 by a group of friends at a high school in San Rafael, California.

Yup. Five buddies, known as the “waldos” – because they hung out near a certain wall on campus -- plotted to meet after school one day to embark on an expedition to find a field of cannabis, rumoured  to have been planted by a local coastguard employee.

As they all played after-school sports, the designated time to meet was …4:20 pm. They never found the mythical weed patch, but they did continue to meet at 4:20, to pursue one of their favourite activities…smoking cannabis. Or, as they continued to reefer…sorry, refer to it, 420!

The term might have remained an obscure in-joke among the waldos had it not been for one of their brothers going to work for the Grateful Dead–whose members and immediate circle also adopted the term.

So, while it had nothing to do with their accommodation on tour, the Dead really did have something to do with the adoption and growth of 420.

They just were not, to riff on another band’s name, the mothers of its invention.

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