4/20: Five Myths and One Truth About the Unofficial Holiday

4/20 myths, debunked.
4/20 myths, debunked.
Lindsey Bartlett

The myths, stories and rumors about what 4/20 means range from insane to ridiculous to pure madness.

You may have heard about the unofficial holiday when you were a kid from older teens. Maybe your know-it-all pot pal gives you the same explanation each year. Or you might have Googled 4/20 to learn more.

No matter: There's a lot of gray in the history of the Green Day. 

Here are the five most common versions of the origins of 4/20 — as well as the actual truth. But where's the fun in facts?

A photo posted by Bob Marley (@bobmarley) on

5.  Bob Marley
Many people believe 4/20 was inspired by Bob Marley because that's the day he died — except he actually died on May 11, 1981 — or when he was born (wrong again: His birthday is February 6). This creation myth is often repeated for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or anyone else associated with the “27 Club.”

Pot patrol.
Brandon Marshall

4. Calling All Units
Rumor has it that 420 is the police code for “marijuana smoking in progress” or for “possession” or the penal code for marijuana use — none of which are true. For all you CSI fans out there, 420 is the radio code for homicide, a fun fact you can share with your grandmother next time you visit!

3. Bob Dylan Plus Math
In the Bob Dylan track “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35,” Dylan repeats, over and over, “Everybody must get stoned.” If that message wasn’t clear enough and you needed even more affirmation from Dylan that you should get stoned, and should in fact get stoned at 4:20, then you would obviously know the real message is that 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420! Crazy, right? RIGHT?! That's not the source of 4/20's origin, but it's cute.

Chemistry is a common misconception.
Chemistry is a common misconception.
Lindsey Bartlett

2. Chemistry
People will tell you over and over that there are 420 chemical compounds in the flower, but those people are wrong. There are only 315 chemicals in cannabis, and that’s without getting technical.

King of the Dead Heads.
Brandon Marshall

1. Deadhead
Think there has to be a Grateful Dead connection? While every silver lining’s got a touch of gray, nothing about where the Heads laid their…heads connects this green holiday to the band. The most popular legend has it that the musicians insisted on staying in rooms numbered 420, but that's only a legend. Still, there has to be a connection…

The truth isn't hazy.
Brandon Marshall

The Truth
The origins of 4/20 can be traced back to 1971 and some buddies attending San Rafael High School in northern California who called themselves the Waldos. In autumn of that year, the group came into possession of a hand-drawn map supposedly locating a marijuana crop at Point Reyes, northwest of San Francisco. They were determined to find it, and since some of them had sports activities after classes ended at 3 p.m., they decided to meet at 4:20 p.m. When they would see each other in the hallways during the day, their code word was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20" to smoke and head off on their escapades, which never led to any plot, or pot, or anything at all. Except the creation of a legend.

According to an account in Westword's partner paper, the LA Weekly, “We were smoking a lot of weed at the time,” says Dave Reddix or Waldo Dave, now a filmmaker. “Half the fun was just going looking for it.” Friends and acquaintances soon picked up on the 420 code, and they spread it to their own friends and acquaintances, and somewhere in there were members of the Grateful Dead, and the term spread among the band’s fans. See? Full circle.

Does the real meaning of 4/20 matter? Sure it does, but maybe it doesn’t matter any more than any other meaning. Stories are fun, facts are facts, Deadheads are always right. Happy 4/20!

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