What is the meaning of 420?

The expression ‘420’ or ‘4/20’ in cannabis slang refers to the time of consumption of marijuana or hashish. It is commonly used to indicate the purpose of smoking, even if it is not this time. For example, if someone says at 6 p.m. ‘Hey, it’s 4:20’, it means that it is time to consume cannabis or a cannabis derivative. Likewise, it is also used when, being close to 4:20 in the afternoon, someone considers that it is time to smoke.

Moreover, since dates are written in American English with the day before the month, ‘4/20’ also refers to the 20th of April. Although nothing major cannabis-related happened on this date, given the popularity of the term ‘420’, cannabis-oriented celebrations are organised, which is said to be World Marijuana Day.

In contemporary culture, few terms have acquired such a unique and recognisable resonance as the expression ‘420’. This number has become a recognised global symbol, a phenomenon that transcends borders and cultures, carrying with it a rich and surprising history.


History and origins of the term ‘420’.

The term ‘420’ is not just a random number in the cannabis world; it is a code with a history and origin as intriguing as its widespread use. This account of the birth of the term ‘420’ takes us back to the 1970s in San Rafael, California, where it was first used by a group of ‘stoners’ who called themselves the ‘Waldos’.

Apparently, this gang of high school students, who smoked a lot of marijuana, learned of a cannabis crop that had been abandoned. It is worth remembering that, during the 1970s in the US, the mere fact of consuming cannabis could land you in jail, even if the consumption took place in the private sphere. Therefore, abandoning a marijuana plantation to avoid legal problems did not sound so strange.

Armed with this information and knowing the location of the garden, the ‘Waldos’ decided to meet after school, at 4:20 pm, to go and harvest it. They never found the hidden treasure they were looking for, but, from then on, whenever they wanted to allude to cannabis or when smoking, they used the expression ‘420’.

Expansion of the term ‘420

Over time, the term ‘420’ transcended its origin and became a globally used expression. The Waldos apparently had connections to the famous American rock band the Grateful Dead, who helped spread the term through their extensive networks of followers.

As the band travelled, the term 420 spread, evolving from a covert sign for smoking cannabis to a symbol of the culture and lifestyle associated with the plant.

In the early 1990s, Steven Hager, editor-in-chief of High Times magazine, arguably one of the oldest and best-known cannabis magazines, began using the term in his writing, indicating that the expression referred to a code the police used to refer to cannabis use.

However, the Waldos contacted him to explain the history of the true origin of the term ‘420’, providing evidence of its use in the early 1970s. From there, the term gradually spread, until, with the advent of social networks, it reached most countries in the world.

The term ‘420’ was adopted by cannabis culture in a broader sense. It began to be seen not only as a code for consumption, but also as a symbol of the struggle for legalisation and social acceptance of cannabis.

Over time, 20 April (4/20 in US date notation) became a sort of unofficial cannabis day, with gatherings and celebrations taking place around the world to commemorate the fight for legalisation, advocating for cannabis culture and the rights of cannabis users.

Today, 420 continues to be an emblem of cannabis culture, as well as a reminder of its history and its ongoing struggle for acceptance and normalisation of a plant in society.

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