In 1971, five high school students in San Rafael, California, used the term "4:20" in connection with a plan to search for an abandoned cannabis crop, based on a treasure map made by the grower. Calling themselves the Waldos, because their typical hang-out spot "was a wall outside the school", the five students—Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich—designated the Louis Pasteur statue on the grounds of San Rafael High School as their meeting place, and 4:20 pm as their meeting time. The Waldos referred to this plan with the phrase "4:20 Louis". After several failed attempts to find the crop, the group eventually shortened their phrase to "4:20", which ultimately evolved into a code-word the teens used to refer to consuming cannabis.
Steven Hager of High Times popularized the story of the Waldos. The first High Times mention of 4:20 smoking and a 4/20 holiday appeared in May 1991, and the connection to the Waldos appeared in December 1998. Hager attributed the early spread of the phrase to Grateful Dead followers—after "Waldo" Reddix became a roadie for the Grateful Dead's bassist, Phil Lesh—and called for 4:20 pm to be the socially accepted time of the day to consume cannabis.
International day for cannabis-related protests and events
On that day many marijuana users protest in civil disobedience by gathering in public to smoke at 4:20 pm.
As marijuana continues to be decriminalized and legalized around the world, Steve DeAngelo, cannabis activist and founder of California's Harborside Health Center, notes that "even if our activist work were complete, 420 morphs from a statement of conscience to a celebration of acceptance, a celebration of victory, a celebration of our amazing connection with this plant" and that he thinks that "it will always be worthy of celebration".
In North America
North American observances have been held at many locations, including:
In Ljubljana, Slovenia, the University of Ljubljana's student organization has carried out several annual cannabis-themed protests that have contributed to the debate on cannabis status in Slovenia and the subsequent legislation proposals in 2018 by gathering responses from various political parties in Slovenia and ranking them accordingly.
In Northern Cyprus, known for strict drug laws and intolerance to cannabis consumption, the first 420 event was held in the capital city Lefkoşa in 2015. On April 20, 2017, a small group of protesters carried out an event near the parliament building and made a public statement, demanding the legalization of cannabis sale, consumption, and production with state regulations.
In the USA, signs bearing the number 420 have been frequently stolen. In Colorado, the Colorado Department of Transportation replaced the Mile Marker 420 sign on I-70 east of Denver with one reading 419.99 in an attempt to stop the thievery; however, the folklore of the 419.99 sign has caused it to be stolen, too, as well as becoming a tourist destination. As of August 2018, the sign was missing, presumed stolen. The Colorado DOT usually will not replace signs that are repeatedly taken, but began the practice of replacing further down the road after "69" mile marker signs were frequently stolen—these were replaced with "68.5 mile" ones. The Idaho Department of Transportation (ITD) replaced the mile marker 420 sign on U.S. Highway 95, just south of Coeur d'Alene, with mile marker 419.9. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) implemented similar measures, but only replaced one of the two 420 signs in the state, with the remaining one being subsequently stolen. According to The Washington Post, there are eleven 420 mile markers in the US, after three replacements and one stolen and not replaced. In Goodhue County, Minnesota, officials have changed "420 St" street signs to "42x St". The mile marker 420 sign on U.S. Route 89, the only 420 marker in the state of Utah, is frequently stolen.
In 2003, California Senate Bill 420 was introduced to regulate medical marijuana use, in deliberate reference to the status of 420 in marijuana culture. An unsuccessful 2010 bill to legalize cannabis in Guam was called Bill 420. A North Dakota bill to legalize cannabis was HB 1420, introduced in January 2021.
The State of Colorado auctioned off several cannabis-themed personalized license plates in 2021, with the bidding to be closed on April 20 (4/20). The highest bid shortly before the auction closed was over $6,500 for "ISIT420".
^ abMcKinley, Jesse (April 19, 2009). "Marijuana Advocates Point to Signs of Change". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 18, 2010. Retrieved January 23, 2011. Mr. Hager said the significance of April 20 dates to a ritual begun in the early 1970s in which a group of Northern California teenagers smoked cannabis every day at 4:20 pm. Word of the ritual spread and expanded to a yearly event in various places. Soon, cannabis aficionados were using "420" as a code for smoking and using it as a sign-off on flyers for concerts where the drug would be plentiful. In recent years, the April 20 events have become so widespread that several colleges have discouraged students from participating.