4/20: Mythology and fact

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

There’s a lot of mystery and mythology surrounding this number. Sure, you see “420-friendly” on a roommate listing and know exactly what it means – (it means you want to move in ASAP) – but do you know WHY it means that? Here, we’ll dispel some common misconceptions and get to the truth of the matter.

Myth: It’s Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

Truth: Yeah, Hitler was born on April 20, 1889. But that’s hardly the reason stoners rejoice. Stoners don’t approve of Hitler. (We hope). It’s also not the birthday of any other famous smokers, like Bob Marley or Willie Nelson.

Myth: 420 refers to the number of chemical compounds in cannabis.

Truth: Nope. There are apparently 315 chemicals in cannabis.

Myth: 420 is a police radio code for marijuana.

Truth: Wrong. Although 420 is the code for homicide at the Las Vegas Police Department.

Myth: Is there a Grateful Dead connection?

Truth: Actually, yes. Devoted tokers that they were, the Grateful Dead helped spread the code (although they didn’t invent it).

So what’s the whole truth? Can you HANDLE the truth? (OK you probably can). The real 420-origin story dates back to 1970s California (where else?). Among a group of high school students in San Rafael, 4:20 p.m. became the intended hour of cannabis consumption. They used “420” as a whispered covert phrase in the hallways, as well as for the general time said activities would commence. The group often met in front of the statue of 19th century French scientist Louis Pasteur.

San Rafael and Marin County also happened to be the central hub for all things Grateful Dead from the ’70s through the ’90s. So the markedly marijuana-friendly musical group and their “Deadheads” (fans) soon picked up on the trend; once they started using it on tour, the whole thing spread like wildfire. Within a decade, 420 had become a universal signifier, and April 20 was a national day of blazing merriment.

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