The Origins of 4/20: Unraveling the Mystery Behind the Famous Marijuana Celebration

Every year on April 20th, cannabis enthusiasts around the world come together to celebrate their love for the plant. But have you ever wondered how this date became synonymous with marijuana culture? The origins of 4/20 are shrouded in mystery and urban legend, with several theories attempting to explain its significance. Let’s delve into the history and unravel the intriguing story behind the famous 4/20 celebration.

The Waldos and the Treasure Map

One of the most widely circulated theories traces the origin of 4/20 back to a group of high school students in California known as ‘the Waldos.’ In the early 1970s, the Waldos allegedly obtained a hand-drawn map leading to a hidden cannabis crop. The group would meet at 4:20 p.m. after school to embark on their treasure hunt, using ‘4:20’ as a code word to plan their escapades without arousing suspicion.

While the treasure map may have been a fruitless endeavor, the term ‘4:20’ stuck with the Waldos as a shorthand for smoking marijuana. Their frequent use of the phrase eventually caught on within their social circles, spreading to the broader cannabis community over time.

The Origins of 4/20: Unraveling the Mystery Behind the Famous Marijuana Celebration

Grateful Dead and the 4/20 Connection

Another compelling theory links the origins of 4/20 to the “beyond iconic” rock band, the Grateful Dead. As the story goes, the band’s devoted fans, ‘Deadheads,’ played a pivotal role in popularizing the 4/20 phenomenon. It is believed that 4:20 p.m. held special significance within the Deadhead community, serving as an unofficial time to partake in cannabis rituals during the band’s concerts and gatherings.

With the Grateful Dead’s extensive influence and dedicated following, the association between 4/20 and marijuana culture gained momentum, spreading far beyond the realm of music to become a widely recognized symbol of cannabis appreciation.

The Origins of 4/20: Unraveling the Mystery Behind the Famous Marijuana Celebration

Police Code 420 and Its Misinterpretation

One persistent but debunked theory suggests that ‘420’ was a police code for marijuana-related offenses. However, there is no credible evidence to support this claim, and law enforcement sources have refuted the existence of such a code. Despite its lack of factual basis, the police code myth has persisted in popular culture and has been erroneously cited as the origin of 4/20 by some individuals.

It’s important to distinguish fact from fiction when exploring the origins of 4/20, as urban legends and misinformation often intertwine with genuine historical narratives, leading to misconceptions about the true genesis of this celebrated date.

As the legend of 4/20 continues to captivate the imagination of cannabis enthusiasts, the true origin of this annual celebration remains a subject of fascination and debate. Whether rooted in the adventures of the Waldos, the cultural influence of the Grateful Dead, or misconceptions surrounding police codes, the legacy of 4/20 persists as a testament to the enduring allure of marijuana culture. Regardless of its precise beginnings, 4/20 has undeniably woven itself into the fabric of cannabis lore, uniting individuals in a shared celebration of the plant and its community.

For perspective, remember that 4/20 is not a once-a-year event, but is a daily event for many. It is, this year, our 39th Wedding Anniversary. To celebrate, we are looking forward to a feast at the world-famous Flagstaff House Restaurant in Boulder. Any event becomes extra-magical when the celebration includes dinner at this magnificent restaurant, set in the foothills overlooking our Boulder Valley. I believe that my tuxedo will satisfy their dress code. I can only hope that my appetite will hold up to the magnificence of the banquet.

  • Senior Counsel Emeritus to the Boulder Law firm Dolan + Zimmerman LLP : (720)-610-0951
  • Former Judge
  • Photographer of the Year, AboutBoulder 2023
  • First Chair and Originator of the Colorado Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee, a National first.
  • Previous Chair, Boulder Criminal Defense Bar (8 years)
  • Twice chair Executive Counsel, Colorado Bar Association Criminal Law Section
  • NORML Distinguished Counsel Circle
  • Life Member, NORML Legal Committee
  • Life Member, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Board Member Emeritus, Colorado NORML
  • Chair, Colorado NORML, 7 years including during the successful effort to legalize recreational pot in Colorado
  • Media work, including episodes of Fox’s Power of Attorney, well in excess of many hundreds media interviews, appearances, articles, and podcasts, including co-hosting Time For Hemp for two years.
  • Board member, Author, and Editor for Criminal Law Articles for the Colorado Lawyer, primary publication of the Colorado Bar Assoc. 7 Years, in addition to having 2 Colorado Lawyer cover photos, and numerous articles for the Colorado Lawyer monthly publication.
  • LEAP Speaker, multi-published author, University lectures Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Denver University Law School, Univ. of New Mexico, Las Vegas NM, and many other schools at all levels.