How Using the Term ‘420’ for Marijuana Got Started

How Using the Term ‘420’ for Marijuana Got Started

The Meaning and Origin of the Term: 420

How 420 (4/20 or 4:20 – pronounced “four-twenty”) Became Code for Marijuana

The term 420 is slang for the use and enjoyment of marijuana. 420 literally means “weed,” “pot,” “it’s time to get high,” “smoke marijuana,” and so on.

Featured - 420 Meaning Origination - Association with MarijuanaYou will hear this term in relation to someone being “420 friendly” and the date April 20th (IE: 4/20) is globally recognized as “Marijuana Appreciation Day.”

The term 420 was first used in conjunction with marijuana back in 1971. Five students at Marin County, California’s San Rafael High School are credited as the first people to coin the term.
After finding a hand-drawn map supposedly showing the location of a huge marijuana field north-west of San Francisco, the group of boys (self-proclaimed “Waldos“) began meeting at 4:20pm every day by the school’s statue of chemist Louis Pasteur to go look for the marijuana. (The boys never found their treasure, however.)

The students – Steve Cooper, Mark Gravich, Jeffrey Noel, Dave Reddix, and Larry Schwartz – chose the time 4:20pm because extracurricular school activities would have normally been over by then. The original term they used was “420 Louis,” which meant to meet at the statue at 4:20 to go look for the pot field. This was soon shortened to just “420” and they would say it to each other as a slang word for smoking weed at any time or place. It wasn’t long before their friends and acquaintances also started using 420 as a slang term for marijuana and getting high.

As luck would have it, members of the band the Grateful Dead had moved to San Rafael from San Francisco in 1970. The band members had connections to the Waldos, heard the term from them, and started using it themselves. Soon after, 420 began being used by Grateful Dead fans and quickly became a common term associated with marijuana to “Deadheads” throughout the country.

Later on, in 1990, High Times magazine editor Steve Bloom saw a flyer explaining how the term 420 came into popular use on a Grateful Dead concert flyer. It wasn’t long before magazine staff were frequently using the term themselves (they even held pot-fueled meetings of their own at 4:20pm) and then in magazine articles, spreading the term across the United States as well as globally.


“Sally’s online dating profile says that she is 420 friendly.”

“420 day, April 20th, is a stoner holiday.”

“People all over the world get together on one day each year and collectively smoke pot at the same time. That day is April 20, also known as 420 Day.”

“Dave is 420 friendly, so we can smoke at his place before going out tonight.”


Thousands illegally smoke marijuana in Golden Gate Park to celebrate 420 and end prohibition - April 20, 2013 Thousands illegally smoke marijuana in Golden Gate Park to celebrate 420 and end prohibition – April 20, 2013. (Wikipedia / Public Domain)

Louis Pasteur statue, San Rafael High School where the term 420 began Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael High School where the term 420 first began being used for association with marijuana. (Wikipedia / Public Domain)

How the Term 420 Got Started Being Used for Marijuana

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September 9, 2018 / by / in

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