420 is a significant number in American pop culture. It’s one of those numbers that everyone knows, like how 7 is synonymous with being lucky and 13 with being unlucky. The number 420 is synonymous with cannabis and its culture. 

Louis Pasteur & The Grateful Dead

The origin of 420 starts in 1971 with a group of teenagers in San Rafael, CA, a city just north of San Francisco. The teens heard about an untended cannabis plant ripe for the picking. They started meeting at 4:20 p.m. near a Louis Pasteur statue to begin their search. In the beginning, the phrase started as 4:20-Louis, but was eventually shortened to just 4:20. 

As luck would have it, the teens and their families were connected to the popular jam band, The Grateful Dead. As the story goes, the phrase was probably used around the bandmates and their fans, the Deadheads, who started commonly using the term as code for smoking marijuana. 

In the early 90s, a writer for High Times Magazine heard the phrase at Grateful Dead concerts. The reporter asked concert attendees and band members about the phrase’s origin and eventually landed on the story of the San Rafael teens. 

Cannabis Culture Goes Mainstream

In the last 30 years, the phrase has blossomed in popularity. 

Now the phrase is synonymous with cannabis. On April 20th, many Americans celebrate by participating in massive smoking rallies across the country especially in cannabis-friendly cities like Denver, Portland, Boulder, and Seattle. The annual High Times Cannabis Cup and many other cannabis industry events are also held on or around the date too. 

Creators Whereabouts Go Up in Smoke

Despite its coded origins, 420 has gone mainstream. Nearly 20 states have legalized cannabis recreationally, with the remainder of states legalizing it medicinally. 

The teens, who are now middle-aged, may create a documentary to share their story with the world, but for right now, they are happy to live in obscurity and as a footnote in the history of one of the country’s most famous numbers.