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Alana Rossi
August 19, 2023

The number 420 has become a universal symbol and code word for anything related to cannabis culture. It originated in 1971 when a group of high school students in San Rafael, California who called themselves the Waldos created the term 420 as a code to use when talking about smoking marijuana. The Waldos heard a rumor about an abandoned cannabis crop located somewhere in a nearby forest and made plans to search for it after school one day. On the agreed upon day, they met at 4:20pm to begin their hunt, smoking copious amounts of marijuana during their adventure. Though they never found the rumored cannabis crop, 420 became their code word for consuming marijuana and it caught on among their friends.

The Waldos were connected to the band The Grateful Dead and through this connection, the coded term spread within the Deadhead community. In the early 1990s, High Times magazine published an article about the origins of 420, helping to spread it from the Deadhead subculture to the broader cannabis culture. Since then, 420 has grown to represent anything and everything related to recreational or medical marijuana.

April 20 (4/20) has become a counterculture holiday for celebrating cannabis, with festival gatherings and group smoke sessions taking place across the world. The term 420 is universally recognized within cannabis culture as a symbol, code word, and subtle reference to consuming, celebrating, advocating for, or identifying with marijuana use. People frequently use the term 420 to mean they are cannabis users or 'cannabis friendly' without having to explicitly state they consume an illegal substance. Businesses use 420 in advertisements to indicate they cater to the marijuana community. The code term 420 has endured within cannabis culture since the 1970s and continues to thrive as both an insider reference and public statement advocating marijuana legalization.

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