The Real History of 420 and How We Celebrate It

Mar 09, 2021

April 20th is cherished by cannabis enthusiasts worldwide as a reason to toke up with friends, or even with crowds, every year. Rallies and festivals happen all over the world to celebrate this day, with cannasseurs even blocking off this day to chill out and enjoy. So how did this term and unofficial (but fun) holiday come to fruition? 

The term, “420” is synonymous with smoking cannabis, and there are several myths on how it became the beloved holiday that it is today. Some claim that “420” is a code that police officers use to alert their colleagues for cannabis smoking in progress, while others suggest crazy myths that it’s because it’s Hitler’s birthday, or it’s because Bob Dylan wrote a song about it. 

To be blunt, these rumours are false. Here’s the real reason why 420 is what it is today.

The Real History Behind the Term, 420

It turns out that the term was first coined by a bunch of high school students in 1971. Time Magazine reported that five athletes at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California would meet at 4:20 p.m. to smoke, because this is when they would finish football practice. The boys would meet by the statue of a chemist, Louis Pasteur, which had a wall next to it.

These students, namely Dave Reddix, Steve Capper, Jeffrey Noel, Mark Gravich, and Larry Schwartz, gained an infamous group name as the “Waldos,” because they met and smoked at a wall. They used the term 420 in a clandestine way, or as a code, to refer to cannabis so that their schoolmates wouldn’t know what they were talking about. In an interview, one of them confessed that they got tired of the “jocks and the Friday-night football scene,” and were the ones who didn’t know what they were doing there. To ease pressure and have their kind of fun, they would often light up under the bleachers, while the others practiced.

420: The Legend that Began With a Treasure Hunt

The beginning of the infamous 420 activities of the Waldos began quickly after learning about a treasure. They found out about an abandoned lot that was a growing ground for cannabis plants owned by a coast guard member who could no longer tend to it. Taking this opportunity to the next level, the group would meet at the statue and conduct a search using a map that they acquired from the plant owner. And of course, it would be at 4:20 p.m.

The Continuation of the 420 Legacy, Thanks to the Grateful Dead

a man rolling grinded cannabis into a joint

Later on, Reddix landed a job as a roadie for the iconic rock and roll band, Grateful Dead. The bassist, Phil Lesh became amused with his frequent conversations with Reddix about his 420 shenanigans (who wouldn’t be?). Stories and habits passed on, and it wasn’t long until their dedicated fans caught up.

A group of Grateful Dead followers, also known as “Deadheads,” created and distributed flyers all over Oakland in 1990. The flyers invited fans to toke “420” on April 20, at 4:20 p.m. One of the flyers ended up in the hands of Steve Bloom, who was a former reporter for High Times Magazine, also known as the printed holy grail of cannabis culture. 

High Times printed the flyer the following year and consistently referenced the number in their articles and features. Readers were quick to catch on, and it wasn’t long until it became the worldwide code for cannabis. In 1998, High Times acknowledged the “Waldos” as the real inventors of the term, 420.

Take a look at the original flyer here.

420: The Idea of a Stoner Holiday

Bloom went on to become the publisher of, and gave credit to the Deadheads who were responsible for creating the flyer. The flyer placed emphasis on the date’s reputation and the annual celebration of cannabis enthusiasts. 

In 2015 Bloom wrote, “They wanted people all over the world to get together on one day each year and collectively smoke pot at the same time.” He added, “the Deadheads created the idea of a stoner holiday.” 

And that is what April 20 has become.

How is 420 Celebrated Today?

All over the world, cannabis enthusiasts flock to celebrate this unofficial red-letter day to do one thing: get high. Countries such as Scotland, Australia, London, the U.S., the Netherlands, and more, have 420-themed music festivals to gather like-minded people and raise positive awareness about its effects and benefits. Ask anyone who has been to any 420-themed festival and we bet that their answers are pretty much spot-on.

Some of these 420 celebrations are:

Specifically in Canada where cannabis consumption is legal, a number of 420-themed festivals take place each year. This includes:

a crowd in a festival

Edmonton Cannabis Expo

Unlike other 420-themed events with raging music, the Edmonton Cannabis Expo is a gathering of clinicians, researchers, cultivators, and dispensary owners who want to showcase their respective products and findings to create a wider informational sphere about the booming industry.

420 Vancouver Cannabis Festival

Previously called the “420 Vancouver Smoke Out,” this 420 festival celebrates cannabis culture – originally starting out as a protest. Now that legalization took place, it has morphed into a massive, free-for-all festival with music, booths, and stalls selling edibles, smoking accessories, and everything cannabis-related you can think of.

Niagara Falls 420 Expo

Happening at the Scotiabank Convention Centre, the next event is scheduled for April 23, 2022, which gives everyone just about enough time to prepare for an all-out celebration of all things cannabis. The event is set to cover 20,000 square feet of area to accommodate exhibitors, manufacturers, educational seminars, and is deemed to be the largest 420 expo in North America.

These are only some examples of the many 420 celebrations happening in Canada. To view more, visit this link.

Getting Ready to Safely Celebrate 420?

Smokey’s has everything you need to make this global holiday even more special, right at your own comfort. Browse through our fine selection of dried flowers, pre-rolls, vaporizer cartridges, edibles, and smoking essentials.

Get in touch with us today!