Apr 19, 2021

History of 4/20: Origins of Our Highest Holiday

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Even most first-time tokers have heard of the holiday. April 20th is so well-known as the day dedicated to cannabis that it has spurned its own urban legends. No matter the true birth, one thing is for sure – 4/20 is here to stay, creating a time and place for cannabis lovers, counterculture buffs, and everyone in-between to come together for celebration and action, such as via San Francisco’s “Hippie Hill” or the National Cannabis Festival in Washington D.C.


We’re here to give you a quick history about how 4/20 came to be what it is today, including the true story behind the moniker and why its importance can help you determine your own celebrations, whether they be virtual or safely together, this year.


What is the origin of 4/20?

Over the years of this holiday’s infamy, there have been many theories as to how it came to be. Some have said that the term “420” referred to police radio code for cannabis consumption, while others have pointed out that it must be a reference to Adolf Hitler’s birthday. But it’s actually neither. The most commonly accepted origin of the term comes from a group of teenagers in 1971 who dubbed themselves “the Waldos” and met to smoke together at 4:20 p.m. while attending San Rafael High School in California.


How did the day become known as the international cannabis holiday?

Perhaps more interestingly, the term grew in popularity due to one of the teenagers mentioned above – Dave Reddix  – becoming a roadie for bassist Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead later on and introducing the band to it. After some fans (also known as Deadheads) handed out flyers at a show in the 90s inviting people to smoke “420” on April 20th at 4:20 p.m., High Times reporter Steve Bloom began using the term regularly in the magazine. 


Since then, 4/20 (and even the time of 4:20 p.m.) has become known around the world as a day to celebrate the incredible medicinal benefits of cannabis as well as a call to action for smoke-ins and other political demonstrations in the push for legalization.


Why is 4/20 important?

Recreational cannabis legalization has only recently become fully recognized in Michigan…and the rest of the U.S. isn’t as far into the future as some would hope. Since Colorado and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana possession and sale in 2012, Washington D.C. and 14 more states have followed. Yet, an estimated 40,000 people remain behind bars due to cannabis-related convictions. With federal law unchanged, discrepancies in everything from sentencing to the legal cannabis market itself – especially when it comes to banking and interstate commerce – will remain.


It’s with these topics in mind that many consumers, cultivators, and enthusiasts dedicate 4/20 to showcasing their support by purchasing from their local and legal industry, demonstrations (as happened earlier this month for the annual Hash Bash in Ann Arbor), or simply indulging in whatever way works best for them.


What should I do to celebrate?

Depending on the type of consumption you prefer (are you a solo smoker or love having a group to puff and pass with?), you’ll likely look for something that fits your needs. With the COVID-19 pandemic still underway, many would-be gatherings have been canceled or made virtual. But there are still plenty of opportunities to take a Zoom cannabis cooking class, watch presentations on legalization laws, or even digital art shows. For Michigan-specific events, see this handy list.


As long as you’ve got some much-loved herb with you, you’re ready to celebrate the holiday and snag something from the RAIR portfolio. Happy 4/20!


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