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A Brief History of 4/20: From Code Word to Canna Xmas

A short history of the origins of this infamous stoner day.


Cause if there’s one thing we all know stoners love to do, it’s read.

Anyone who smokes weed in the year 2023 will know that if there’s one day in the year when it’s considered OK to get so high that you forget what the date is, that date is 4/20. (Rule of thumb, if you ever get so high that you completely black out on what day it is, there is a solid chance it’s 4/20 too, but who knows about the year.)

While it’s cool to enjoy this holiday like a regular pot smoker and know nothing about why this random day in Spring took on its added significance, it’s also natural to wonder why people picked Hitler’s birthday of all days to celebrate.

Dubious Origins

The question of how this day, in particular, came to be chosen amongst stoner society as “Weedmas” dates back to a 1970s group of high school students from Marin County known as The Waldos.

What began as a code word for these five students who picked 4:20 in the afternoon as their select hour to light up when detention lets out has since evolved into a unanimously agreed upon fantastic day to celebrate worldwide.

However, it took a few decades for 4/20 to pick up steam into wider recognition beyond Cali’s great state. It didn’t just happen overnight.

Not until 1990, when 4/20 began its circulation on flyers at Grateful Dead concerts, was the movement able to find its way cross country.

Once High Times reporter Steve Bloom caught wind of one, he passed on the infamous 4/20 flyer to the Huffington Post as news of the day escalated further.

The year after, Bloom transcribed and re-published the flyer for High Times, which falsely cited its origins as police code yet also correctly noted its potential as a “grandmaster holiday” in the making.

By the time the internet rolled around, 4/20 had already planted its irl grassroots seeds via word of mouth and the press, thereby teeing it up to become the mother of all unofficial holidays it is today.

High Key Celebrations

Whether you celebrate 4/20 from the comfort of home with good snacks and Netflix or out there amongst friends, formal, sometimes en masse gatherings for weed St. Patty’s Day now abound.

Unsurprisingly, commercial significance for the cultural holiday boomed once legalization kicked in, and the opportunity to profit from it increased significantly.

But that doesn’t mean that many of these meetups and parties aren’t genuinely grounded in fondness for the plant itself.

The Infamous 4/20 Flyer. Photo: Freedomleaf

Just because 4/20 has last its counter-cultural edge to a large degree does not mean it can’t still be a fun day to celebrate.

It sucks that inhaling on this date is maybe not quite the radical act it used to be, but we can all take solace from the fact that we’re far less likely to get arrested for it now, too.

If the absence of paranoia isn’t enough to add to your high, there’s also the fact that the potency of marijuana and the advanced means by which we can consume it have skyrocketed since the 70s, too.

Not to mention the bevy of pot shops throughout the United States that have allowed for celebrations of this day on a scale its founders might never have deemed possible.

If the founders of this holiday could look forward a nearly half-century to see what 4/20 has morphed into today, they’d probably feel high.

Written By

is a Skidmore College '16 English major from NYC who hopes Arsenal win the Premier League again soon...

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