No other day of the year is as big of a cannabis celebration as April 20th. Each year, dispensaries go head-to-head, competing over who has the sale prices that’ll drive the most customers. In-person and curbside pickup lines alike leave consumers shoulder-to-shoulder or bumper-to-bumper like a can of sardines.
Festivals and small gatherings are held worldwide on April 20th in the name of cannabis. But why? Why April 20th? What’s so special about 4/20, and what does it have to do with cannabis?
Believe it or not, there are a few urban legends as to how 4/20 came to be the “weed holiday” it is today. And, much like any other great idea from the good ol’ days, it all started with a few pals who liked to “toke” up together.
The Urban Legends Behind 420
As with any story that travels through the grapevine long enough, there are several versions of the legend behind 4/20.
Legend 1: From a Cannabis Treasure Hunt to the Grateful Dead
In the fall of 1971, a group of teens from San Rafael High School in California known as “the Waldos” set out to find a cannabis plant allegedly hidden by a coast guard. They earned their nickname from their infamous hangout spot — a wall in the center of the school campus where they used to spend time together.
A friend of a friend gave the Waldos a hand-drawn map of where the cannabis plant was supposedly located. And with that, the Waldos decided to meet up at 4:20 P.M., smoke a joint, and begin their treasure hunt every day for a few weeks.
Although the Waldos were never successful in finding this elusive cannabis plant, “420” caught on as their code word for cannabis.
“We could use 420 as a secret code in front of our parents, cops, teachers, everybody,” said Dave Reddix, a “founding member” of the Waldos. “And nobody knew what it was. It was our own little private joke.”
Naturally, 420 caught on. But unlike today, where we have TikTok and Twitter churning out new, hip terminology every day, 420 spread the old fashion way. The code word made its way through the Waldos’ siblings and classmates, eventually spreading like wildfire throughout the entire school.
As the Waldos entered college, 420 caught on at their new campuses and spread to the students who reigned in from all over the world. But the trend didn’t stop there.
Reddix’s brother was good friends with Phil Lesh, who you may know as the bassist of the Grateful Dead. Reddix and his brother ended up touring with the Grateful Dead and other bands from the era. And as they shared joints backstage, 420 began spreading through the bands, the “Dead Heads,” and other roadies until it became a worldwide phenomenon.
Legend 2: The Senior Smoke Spot
The second legend still involves the Waldos but omits the treasure hunt and Grateful Dead. According to Vox, the former editor of High Times Magazine Steve Hager told the New York Times 4/20 started as a code word. Hager said it stemmed from a group of teens in California who used to meet up at 4:20 P.M. every day to smoke cannabis together.
It’s possible the Waldos still kept 4:20 P.M. as their designated meeting time for a smoke sesh after their cannabis treasure hunt ended. And, technically, the Waldos did say they would meet up at 4:20, smoke, and then go search for the cannabis plant.
So, it still holds true to what the Waldos told Forbes. Their version of the story just involves a few more juicy details.
Legend 3: The 420 Police Code
If you’ve never heard of the Waldos, then maybe you heard 420 was the police radio code for cannabis. In that respect, celebrating 420 would be a way to “take back cannabis” and “rebel” against oppressive legislation.
However, according to Snopes, 420 isn’t a police radio code for anything.
Legend 4: Bob Marley/Janis Joplin/Jim Morison/Jimi Hendrix Died on 4/20
Another common legend stipulates Bob Marley, Janis Joplin, Jim Morison, or Jimi Hendrix died on 4/20. Thus, 4/20 is celebrated in memory of how their music contributed to the cannabis culture of the ‘70s.
But that isn’t true either, Snopes says. None of them died on 4/20. In fact, they actually died on…
- Bob Marley: May 11, 1981
- Janis Joplin: October 4, 1970
- Jim Morison: July 3, 1971
- Jimi Hendrix: September 18, 1970
How to Celebrate 420
4/20 is a very cannabis community-centric holiday. Just as the term originated with a few friends, the big day is meant to be celebrated with others. This could include celebrating 4/20 at a cannabis festival, convention, or at your own small gathering.
In light of the past few years, there are many virtual events/webinars/celebrations you can attend on or around 4/20, too. If you can’t celebrate at an in-person event, you can attend a virtual one instead.
Before any celebrations can occur, you’ll need to stock up on supplies. Fortunately, many dispensaries launch their best sales of the year during the week of 4/20. Some dispensaries even do a whole month of sales throughout April in anticipation of 4/20.
420 Cannabis Sales
In many states, dispensaries are prohibited from openly advertising their sales on storefronts or through other traditional channels. However, they can still get away with displaying discounts on their site, in their newsletters, or spreading sales through word of mouth.
You may need to watch your local dispensary websites like a hawk, waiting for the best sale to show up so you can swoop in and secure your product.
As the latest report from Headset shows, discounts and purchases surge each year on 4/20, with every year having better sale prices than the previous year. Another market report shows the average consumer spent $76.26 per order on 4/20 last year. This was nine percent higher than the average order in 2020.
Different products also dominate the market each year. If you’re trying to snag some flower for 4/20, then good luck — flower is the most sold-out product of the holiday. There’s a lot of competition among consumers, and there’s always the possibility of a flower shortage happening on 4/20. It’s wiser to pick up your bud before the holiday to ensure you don’t miss out.
There are many cannabis festivals and conventions on 4/20 or throughout the week of the holiday. Some honorable mentions of the cannabis festivals taking place this year include:
- Cannifest (Chicago, IL): April 9th & April 10th, 2022.
- 420 on the Rocks (Morrison, CO): April 20th, 2022.
- Carniroll (Northampton, MA): April 15th through April 17th, 2022.
- The Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival (Kutztown, PA): April 23rd & April 24th, 2022.
- The National Cannabis Festival (Washington D.C.): April 23rd & April 24th, 2022.
- The SweetWater 420 Fest (Atlanta, GA): April 29th through May 1st, 2022.
Other Cannabis Holidays: 710
4/20 isn’t the only cannabis holiday. 7/10 (July 10th) is a lesser-known celebration of cannabis extracts. 710 is derived from the word “oil,” which commonly refers to cannabis vapes and concentrates. If you type “710” on a calculator and flip it upside down, it looks like the word “OIL.”
Some cannabis events that take place on 7/10, as well. You’ll also find many dispensaries run deals on their vape and concentrate products in celebration of 7/10.
So if you can’t celebrate 4/20 this year, you still have 7/10 to look forward to!
Key Takeaways: 420 is a Day to Celebrate Together
4/20 started as a code word among friends and quickly spread throughout the entire world. It was a “meme” well before the dawn of meme culture.
Although many believe 420 started as the police radio code for cannabis or that famous musicians associated with the cannabis community died on 4/20, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The most widely accepted, prevailing theory as to how 4/20 came to be starts with a group of friends known as “the Waldos.” During the fall of 1971, the Waldos would meet up at 4:20 P.M. every day after school, smoke cannabis, and search for a cannabis plant that a coast guard had allegedly hidden.
Just as 420 began with a group of friends, the 4/20 holiday is meant to be shared with others. Whether you celebrate 4/20 at a festival or a small gathering, we wish you a very merry “holidaze” season.
- Cannifest Worldwide. (2022, March 21). Cannifest – The Nation’s Top Cannabis Expo – Coming to a City Near You! Cannifest. https://www.cannifest.com/
- Carniroll. (2022, March 24). Home. https://www.carniroll.com/
- Cova Software. (2021, April 22). 420 Cannabis Holiday Retail Traffic Up 10% in 2021. PR Newswire. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/420-cannabis-hoilday-retail-traffic-up-10-in-2021-301274441.html
- Forbes. (2021, April 20). Meet The Founding Fathers Of 420: The Waldos | Forbes [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JKN5ySFkIA&ab_channel=Forbes
- Headset. (2022, March 15). Understanding the 4/20 cannabis holiday & consumer purchasing trends | Headset. https://www.headset.io/industry-reports/understanding-the-4-20-cannabis-holiday-consumer-purchasing-trends
- Holland, B. (2021, April 19). The Hazy History of “420.” HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/the-hazy-history-of-420
- Lopez, G. (2021, April 20). What is 4/20? The marijuana holiday, explained. Vox. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/4/19/18484698/what-is-420-meaning-marijuana-legalization
- Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival. (n.d.). 2022 Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival – April 23 & 24 – Kutztown, PA. http://www.penncannafest.com/
- Red Rocks Amphitheater. (2022, March 30). Pepper & Method Man & Redman. https://www.redrocksonline.com/events/pepper-method-man-redman/
- National Cannabis Festival. (2022, March 30). Tickets — Buy Tickets & VIP Memberships. https://nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
SweetWater 420 Fest. (2022, March 30). SweetWater 420 Fest – April 29-May 1, 2022 – Centennial Park, Atlanta, GA. https://sweetwater420fest.com/