5 theories about where the term 420 came from including its real origin

Published Jun 4, 2019 11:44 a.m. ET
Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels

If you have spent any time dappling amongst any marijuana using crowd, then you have likely heard the term 420 used in several different ways on more than one occasion. That’s because, like most slang terms, those who use it have adopted their own interpreted version of its meaning which catches on and travels outwards from there. Like most legends, the truth tends to stray far from the whispered rumors that garner attention and spread like wildfire. Here we will touch on 5 wrong theories behind what 420 means, and end with its true origin to settle the debate once and for all.

5 Wrong answers to the question “What does 420 mean?”

1. Bob Marley’s death
Some people believe that 420 was a holiday created to commemorate the death of the great Bob Marley. Not only did the iconic singer not die on that date, but the term 420 was coined several decades before his death, and 420 festivals have taken place for just as long.

2. Adolf Hitler’s birthday
Another popular theory on what 420 means begins with a famous German Nazi Adolf Hitler who was born on April 20. Though the dictator does share a birthday with the international holiday, the term has no connection to Hitler in any way.

3. Cannabinoid count
It was once believed that marijuana contained 420 cannabinoids which were responsible for the term’s creation. However, we know this to be untrue because the number of cannabinoids contained within cannabis was not known until almost 20 years after the very first 420 festival, and the plant produces 315 different elements.

4. The number of a US Congress bill
Though there is an American medical marijuana bill that is numbered 420, the choice to name it that came from the popular term itself and was not the reason for it. The Medical Marijuana Program Act laid out guidelines and regulations for how many cannabis plants a person could legally grow and was not brought into play until 2003 which is almost 30 years after the very first recorded 420 festival, and nearly 50 years after the term was first used.

5. Police code
If you have ever listened in to a police scanner, you would have noticed that they very rarely use regular words to describe events, and instead use different code to alert other authorities in the area and dispatch to what’s going on without informing anyone else unintentionally. For the longest time, it was believed that 420 was the code used by police officers who witnessed marijuana use or sales before an arrest. This is definitely not true since each province and state sets out its own official codes that are always changing no two are the same, and as far as we can tell, not a single one uses or has ever used 420 for this purpose.

Credit: Duncan McCulloch

The true origin of 420

Nowadays when people hear or say 420, they are referring to either a perfect time for marijuana use or an event that takes place on April 20th. Here we will explain the origin of both to avoid any possible confusion.

420 Marijuana use

The term 420 was initially started by a group of teens in the early 60's who were gifted a treasure map that promised to lead them to a plot of abandoned pot plants that were free for the taking. Every day after school the group would meet at 420 to seek out the lost plants. As the teens used it in front of others to reference their special meetups, others around them decided the word was just too catchy and began using it to reference the act of smoking marijuana, as well as the perfect time to smoke it.

420 Event

Canada’s first large scale 420 event took place in Vancouver in 1995 and was held at Square park. The purpose of the gathering was to display a public show of civil disobedience in protest of cannabis being maintained as an illegal substance. What began as a small protest blossomed into a worldwide movement that spread across the world in the form of unique gatherings for a similar purpose all over the globe. Now that marijuana use is legal in many regions, these festivals have evolved into a mixture of celebration and protest. Though some don’t believe there is any reason protest at these events, most people who have spent time in cannabis culture know that many of the laws remain unfair and restrictive falling short of the decriminalization that so many had hoped and fought for.



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