How Familiar Are You With 4/20’s General and Boulder History?

The term 420’s origins remain pretty murky. Some posit 420 was a code for the California penal system used to punish cannabis use— it wasn’t. Others have said it refers to some kind of police radio code against pot users — it doesn’t. Some even believe it’s a nod to the 1966 Bob Dylan song “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” because the chorus says “everybody must get stoned,” and if you multiply those two numbers, you get 420. Who knew? But the most accepted story is the Waldos, a group of high school students in San Rafael, Calif. who met daily after school under a statue of Louis Pasteur on campus. They began to use 420 as a code for their cannabis use in the early 1970s. Maybe it was because one of the Waldos later became a roadie for the Grateful Dead, but, even without social media, the idea soon spread around the country: 4:20pm was a good time to stop and smoke a little dope. A kind of pot happy hour.

The Cannabis Report – April 20th, 2023
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    How Familiar Are You With 4/20’s General and Boulder History? Hannah Leigh

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Somewhere along the line after 420 had been repeated at rock concerts, and especially after High Times magazine told the story of the high schoolers, it became associated with a date, April 20, as well as the correlating time of day. The day became known as both a protest and celebration, as thousands of people around the country, many on college campuses, gathered to light their joints or pipes at precisely 4:20 pm on 4/20. The smoke-outs were meant to highlight the stupidity of the ‘war on drugs.’ That so many were willing to gather to break the law shows how popular cannabis was.

The celebrations got big, really big in the 2000s, and they drew increasing amounts of media attention. Authorities weren’t always pleased. I attended several events that drew upwards of 10,000 people to the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder. People would gather and stand around until precisely 4:20, while police helicopters swooped in for close-ups of marijuana use, and a great cloud of smoke arose and dissipated five minutes later. Just in 2010, irritated, exasperated CU leaders poured fish guts onto the grass in the central quad to keep people away. It did. Not long after cannabis became legal. Now 420 and the holiday are mostly a sales opportunity.

About Leland Rucker:

Leland Rucker is a journalist who has been covering the cannabis industry culture since Amendment 64 legalized adult-use in Colorado, for Boulder Weekly, Sensi, and The News Station. Leland has been keeping KGNU listeners up-to-date on cannabis news for nearly a decade.







Featured Image Credit: This image was originally posted to Flickr by Zach Dischner. It was reviewed on 29 May 2015 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

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    How Familiar Are You With 4/20’s General and Boulder History? Hannah Leigh

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Hannah Leigh

Hannah Leigh has been a volunteer and staff reporter, host, and digital producer for KGNU since 2012. She's also a professional podcast producer and freelance reporter.

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