Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 13, 2023

National Weed Day is a counterculture holiday celebrated by weed enthusiasts all around the world. It’s that one day of the year that unites us with one purpose – to honor the marijuana plant in all its glory.

This day is an event that has been celebrated for a few decades now and has become a modern tradition. It’s quite pleasing to have a dedicated day to cannabis, as you’ll probably agree. But do you know when and how this celebration was born and what’s behind its meaning? Let’s get into the details of this national holiday and see how it’s celebrated.

When Is National Weed Day Celebrated?

April 20th (or 4/20) is an important day for the cannabis community as it’s been appointed as a National Weed Day. On this day, pot smokers all over the world share a smoke with friends and fellow weed lovers in celebratory crowds. 

420 is celebrated everywhere around the world where cannabis has been legalized in some form or another and it’s also used to advocate in favor of the full legalization of marijuana and raise awareness of its benefits. 

In states like California and Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal along with medical marijuana, on this day the streets are flooded with people. The rallies often include lighting a smoke at 4:20 pm to keep up with the theme, but also to protest the legal (and social) stigmas around marijuana. 

Theories on the Origin of Cannabis Day

As hard as it is to believe, no one knows the exact origins of 420 with certainty, so over time, people have come to believe all sorts of things. There are a few theories going around, though, of which some are more plausible than others. 

The Police Radio Code Theory

There is a theory going around that 420 refers to a code once used by the Southern California Police for situations involving weed, but this is misinformation as they don’t use such a code. The San Francisco Police does use a 420 code, but it denotes “juvenile disturbance,” while the Las Vegas Police Department uses it to refer to homicide. Therefore, this theory on the origin of 420 is very unlikely.

The California Penal Code Theory

Another unlikely theory about this day is that it comes from the California Penal Code that has 29 codes that are a set of statutes that define criminal offenses and procedures. However, the 420 code actually refers to obstructing entry on public land, so this theory is also hardly the truth.

The Bob Dylan Song Theory

Another theory that makes a little more sense involves Bob Dylan, the legendary singer-songwriter, writer, and visual artist. Some believe that his song Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 from his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde is a nod to cannabis because there is a lyric that goes “Everybody must get stoned,” plus when you multiply 12 and 35 you get 420. 

However, Bob Dylan has never confirmed any connection between 420 and his song, and in addition, there is a more plausible theory that seems to make the most sense and is the most commonly told one.

The Waldos Theory

The most plausible theory on the origin of the 420 Day is the story of how a group of friends used it as an inside code for a hangout that later spread all around and became a universal code for weed.

In the early 1970s, five high schoolers from the San Rafael High School in Marin County, California used to regularly meet after school to smoke weed. They called themselves “the Waldos” because they would typically hang out outside the school wall. 

But their hangouts weren’t just usual hangouts – one of them, called Steve Capper, was given a treasure map to a patch of cannabis grown by his friend’s brother, so their mission was to find the crop. 

They would usually meet after school at 4:20 pm on their school’s campus by the statue of Louis Pasteur, the chemist and microbiologist that made significant discoveries about vaccination and pasteurization, among others. They would meet, smoke weed, and start their quest. 

The Waldos developed their own code for the meeting time and place called “Louis 420” which over time got shortened to just “420.” They never found the crop they were looking for, but somehow over time, high school students caught on to it and started using it as code for smoking weed. Eventually, it spread across countries and cultures and became a true counterculture holiday.

How the Story of the Waldos Was Popularized

The story of the Waldos reached the public through Steven Hager, writer, journalist, and cannabis rights activist of the High Times who is also the founder of The Cannabis Cup. The first-ever mention of smoking at 4:20 and a 4/20 holiday was in High Times in May 1991. 

According to Hager, the 420 code spread fast across the counterculture as one of the Waldos, called Dave Reddix, became a roadie for Phil Lesh, the bassist of the Grateful Dead, the cult rock band that played a prominent role in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. 

According to Hager, first, it spread among the Grateful Dead followers because San Rafael is the home of the Grateful Dead. From there, once it started appearing in newspapers and magazines (including High Times), it spread even further.

The Waldos even have their own website where they display a documented proof that the term “420” originated from them.

Some Examples of the Impact of 420

The number 420 has stuck with the cannabis culture for many decades now and it’s already cemented within it. Its association with weed is so strong, in fact, that it has started entering the mainstream. 

For example, one deliberate reference was the California Senate Bill 240 which was passed in 2003. Its purpose was to establish the medical marijuana program in California. Similarly, North Dakota introduced a bill named HB 1420 in January 2021 to legalize cannabis.

In 2021, the State of Colorado held an auction for marijuana-themed license plates whose bidding was closed on 4/20 (April 20th). The license plate that got the highest bid was “ISIT420” and it was sold for over $6,600.

There are also cookbooks about weed that have 420 in their titles. The 420 Gourmet was published in 2016 by HarperCollins, while The 420 Cannabis Cookbook by Simon & Schuster is expected to be published in 2022.

Finally, another interesting example is the animated TV show Family Guy where the 12th episode of the 7th season was named simply “420.” 

Celebrating National Weed Day 

National Weed Day is celebrated everywhere around the world, whether privately by sharing a doobie with friends or by going to a 420 event or a public parade on the streets. The events have been becoming more open in recent years as a result of the legal state of weed changing.

In the states, there are major celebrations every year held at Washington Square Park in Manhattan, New York City, on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, in the Civic Center Park in Denver, on the campus of Berkeley in Berkeley, California, as well as outside the Mexican Senate in Mexico City, and many others.

Throughout the rest of the world, there are also major events. In Australia, there have been many events over the years in Martin Place and Kings Kross in Sydney, New South Wales, as well as in Melbourne, Victoria.

In New Zealand, the main event is held at the University of Otago in Dunedin, whereas in the UK, Hyde Park in London is the go-to place on 4/20.

Several 420 events in Ljubljana, Slovenia even contributed to the debate on the status of weed in Slovenia, leading to legislative proposals in 2018.

Bottom Line

April 20th, or National Weed Day, is indeed a big day for the cannabis community. It’s a chance not only to hang out with like-minded people but also to celebrate your favorite plant. Even though the theories on its origin may be unclear, there is one that makes the most sense – and that can give us a glimpse of how the cannabis counterculture has managed to take a seat at the table and create a holiday for weed to be honored.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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